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Full text of "Pepacton"

P6PACTON 




JOHN- BURROUGHS 




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SANTA CRUZ 



Gift ot 

Robert D. Farquhar 



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HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO., Publishers, 
BOSTON AND NEW YORK. 



PEPACTON 



BY 



JOHN BURROUGHS 




BOSTON AND NEW YORK 
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY 



1893 



Copyright, 1881, 
BY JOHN BURROUGHS. 

All rights reserved. 



PREFACE. 



I HAVE all the more pleasure in calling my book 
after the title of the first chapter, " Pepacton," be- 
cause this is the Indian name of my native stream. 
In its water-shed I was born and passed my youth, 
and here on its banks my kindred sleep. Here, also, 
I have gathered much of the harvest, poor though it 
be, that I have put in this and in previous volumes 
of my writings. 

The term " Pepacton " is said to mean " marriage 
of the waters ; " and with this significance it suits my 
purpose well, as this book is also a union of many 
currents. 

The Pepacton rises in a deep cleft or gorge in the 
mountains, the scenery of which is of the wildest and 
ruggedest character. For a mile or more there is 
barely room for the road and the creek at the bottom 
of the chasm. On either hand the mountains, inter- 
rupted by shelving, overhanging precipices, rise ab- 
ruptly to a great height. About half a century ago 
a pious Scotch family, just arrived in this country, 
came through this gorge. One of the little boys, 
gazing upon the terrible desolation of the scene, so 



IV PREFACE. 

unlike in its savage and inhuman aspects anything he 
had ever seen at home, nestled close to his mother, 
and asked with bated breath, "Mither, is there a 
God here?" 

Yet the Pepacton is a placid current, especially in 
its upper portions where my youth fell ; but all its 
tributaries are swift mountain brooks fed by springs 
the best in the world. It drains a high pastoral 
country lifted into long, round-backed hills and rug- 
ged, wooded ranges by the subsiding impulse of the 
Catskill range of mountains, and famous for its supe 
rior dairy and other farm products. It is many long 
years since, with the restlessness of youth, I broke 
away from the old ties amid those hills ; but my 
heart has always been there ; and why should I not 
come back and name one of my books for the old 
stream? 



CONTENTS. 



PAW 
PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOTAOB ...... 7 

SPRINGS 43 

AN IDYL OP THE HONEY-BEE 63 

NATURE AND THE POETS 91 

NOTES BY THE WAY 131 

FOOT-PATHS 195 

A. BUNCH OF HERBS . . 207 

WINTER PICTURES ,...., 37 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

WHEN one summer day I bethought me of a voy- 
age down the east or Pepacton branch of the Dela- 
ware, I seemed to want some excuse for the start, 
some send-off, some preparation, to give the enterprise 
genesis and head. This I found in building my own 
boat. It was a happy thought. How else should I 
have got under way, how else should I have raised the 
breeze? The boat-building warmed the blood; it 
made the germ take, it whetted my appetite for the 
voyage. There is nothing like serving an apprentice- 
ship to fortune, like earning the right to your tools. 
In most enterprises the temptation is always to begin 
too far along ; we want to start where somebody else 
leaves off. Go back to the stump, and see what an 
impetus you get. Those fishermen who wind their 
own flies before they go a-fishing, how they bring 
in the trout ; and those hunters who run their own 
bullets or make their own cartridges, the game is 
already mortgaged to them. 

When my boat was finished and it was a very 
simple affair I was eager as a boy to be off; I 



10 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

feared the river would all run by before I could we* 
her bottom in it. This enthusiasm begat great 
expectations of the trip. I should surely surprise 
nature and win some new secrets from her. I should 
glide down noiselessly upon her and see what all 
those willow screens and baffling curves concealed. 
As a fisherman and pedestrian I had been able to 
come at the stream only at certain points ; now the 
most private and secluded retreats of the nymph 
would be opened to me ; every bend and eddy, every 
cove hedged in by swamps or passage walled in by 
high alders, would be at the beck of my paddle. 

Whom shall one take with him when he goes 
a-courting nature ? This is always a vital question. 
There are persons who will stand between you and 
that which you seek : they obtrude themselves ; they 
monopolize your attention ; they blunt your sense of 
the shy, half-revealed intelligences about you. I 
want for companion a dog or a boy, or a person 
who has the virtues of dogs and boys, transparency, 
good nature, curiosity, open sense, and a nameless 
quality that is akin to trees and growths and the in- 
articulate forces of nature. With him you are alone, 
and yet have company ; you are free ; you feel no 
disturbing element; the influences of nature stream 
ih rough him and around him ; he is a good conductor 
of the subtle fluid. The quality or qualification J 
refer to belongs to most persons who spend their lives 
in the open air, to soldiers, hunters, fishers, labor 
era, and to artists and poets of the right sort. How 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 11 

full of it, to choose an illustrious example, was such a 
man as Walter Scott 1 

But no such person came in answer to my prayer, 
BO I set out alone. 

It was fit that I put my boat into the water at 
Arkville, but it may seem a little incongruous that I 
should launch her into Dry Brook ; yet Dry Brook 
is here a fine large trout stream, arid I soon found its 
waters were wet enough for all practical purposes. 
The Delaware is only one mile distant, and I chose 
this as the easiest road from the station to it. A 
young .farmer helped me carry the boat to the water, 
but did not stay to see me off ; only some calves feed- 
ing along shore witnessed my embarkation. It would 
have been a godsend to boys but there were no boys 
about. I stuck on a rift before I had gone ten yards, 
and saw with misgiving the paint transferred from 
the bottom of my little scow to the tops of the stones 
thus early in the journey. But I was soon making 
fair headway, and taking trout for my dinner as I 
floated along. My first mishap was when I broke 
the second joint of my rod on a bass, and the first 
serious impediment to my progress was when I en- 
countered the trunk of a prostrate elm bridging the 
stream, within a few inches of the surface. My rod 
mended and the elm cleared, I anticipated better sail- 
ing when I should reach the Delaware itself ; but I 
found on this day and on subsequent days that the 
Delaware has a way of dividing up that is very em- 
barrassing to the navigator. It is a stream of many 



12 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

minds : its waters cannot long agree to go all in the 
game channel, and whichever branch I took I was 
pretty sure to wish I had taken one of the others. I 
was constantly sticking on rifts, where I would have 
to dismount, or running full tilt into willow banks, 
where I would lose my hat or endanger my fishing 
tackle. On the whole, the result of my first day's 
voyaging was not encouraging. I made barely eight 
miles, and my ardor was a good deal dampened, to 
say nothing about my clothing. In mid-afternoon 
I went to a well-to-do-looking farm-house and got 
gome milk, which I am certain the thrifty housewife 
skimmed, for its blueness infected my spirits, and I 
went into camp that night more than half persuaded 
to abandon the enterprise in the morning. The lone- 
liness of the river, too, unlike that of the fields and 
woods, to which I was more accustomed, oppressed 
me. In the woods things are close to you, and you 
touch them and seem to interchange something with 
them ; but upon the river, even though it be a nar- 
row and shallow one like this, you are more isolated, 
farther removed from the soil and its attractions, and 
an easier prey to the unsocial demons. The long, 
unpeopled vistas ahead ; the still, dark eddies ; the 
endless monotone and soliloquy of the stream ; the 
unheeding rocks basking like monsters along the 
shore, half out of the water, half in ; a solitary heron 
starting up here and there, as you rounded some 
jioint, and flapping disconsolately ahead till lost to 
view, or standing like a gaunt spectre on the um 



PEPACTON: A SUMMEB VOYAGE. 13 

brageous side of the mountain, his motionless form 
revealed against the dark green as you passed ; the 
trees and willows and alders that hemmed you in on 
either side, and hid the fields and the farm-houses 
and the road that ran near by, these things and 
others aided the skimmed milk to cast a gloom over 
my spirits that argued ill for the success of my un- 
dertaking. Those rubber boots, too, that parboiled 
my feet and were clogs of lead about them, whose 
spirits are elastic enough to endure them ? A male- 
diction upon the head of him who invented them! 
Take your old shoes that will let the water in and 
let it out again, rather than stand knee deep all day 
in these extinguishers. 

I escaped from the river, that first night, and took 
to the woods, and profited by the change. In the 
woods I was at home again, and the bed of hemlock 
boughs salved my spirits. A cold spring run came 
down off the mountain, and beside it, underneath 
birches and hemlocks, I improvised my hearth-stone. 
In sleeping on the ground it is a great advantage to 
have a back-log ; it braces and supports you, and it 
is a bedfellow that will not grumble when, in the 
middle of the night, you crowd sharply up against 
it. It serves to keep in the warmth, also. A heavy 
stone or other point de resistance at your feet is also 
a help. Or, better still, scoop out a little place in 
the earth, a few inches deep, so as to admit your 
body from your hips to your shoulders ; you thus get 
in equal bearing the whole length of ^ou. I am told 



14 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

the Western hunters and guides do this. On the 
same principle, the sand makes a good bed, and the 
snow. You make a mold in which you fit nicely. 
My berth that night was between two logs that the 
bark-peelers had stripped ten or more years before. 
As they had left the bark there, and as hemlock bark 
makes excellent fuel, I had more reasons than one to 
be grateful to them. 

In the morning I felt much refreshed, and as if 
/he night had tided me over the bar that threatened 
to stay my progress. If I can steer clear of skimmed 
milk, I said, I shall now finish the voyage of fifty 
miles to Hancock with increasing pleasure. 

When one breaks camp in the morning, he turns 
back again and again to see what he has left. Surely 
he feels he has forgotten something ; what is it ? But 
it is only his own sad thoughts and musings he has 
left, the fragment of his life he has lived there. 
Where he hung his coat on the tree, where he slept 
on the boughs, where he made his coffee or broiled 
his trout over the coals, where he drank again and 
again at the little brown pool in the spring run, 
where he looked long and long up into the whisper- 
ing branches overhead, he has left what he cannot 
bring away with him, the flame and the ashes of 
himself. 

Of certain game birds it is thought that at times 
they have the power of withholding their scent ; no 
hint or particle of themselves goes out upon the air. 
t think there are persons whose spiritual pores are 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 15 

always sealed up, arid I presume they have the best 
time of it. Their hearts never radiate into the void ; 
they do not yearn and sympathize without return.; 
they do not leave themselves by the wayside as the 
sheep leaves her wool upon the brambles and thorns. 
This branch of the Delaware, so far as I could 
learn, had never before been descended by a white 
man in a boat. Rafts of pine and hemlock timber 
are run down on the spring and fall freshets, but of 
pleasure seekers in boats I appeared to be the first. 
Hence my advent was a surprise to most creatures in 
the water and out. I surprised the cattle in the field, 
and those ruminating leg-deep in the water turned 
their heads at my approach, swallowed their unfin- 
ished cuds, and scampered off as if they had seen a 
spectre. I surprised the fish on their spawning beds 
and feeding grounds ; they scattered, as my shadow 
glided down upon them, like chickens when a hawk 
appears. I surprised an ancient fisherman seated on 
a spit of gravelly beach, with his back up stream, and 
leisurely angling in a deep, still eddy, and mumbling 
to himself. As I slid into the circle of his vision his 
grip on his pole relaxed, his jaw dropped, and he was 
too bewildered to reply to my salutation for some 
moments. As I turned a bend in the river I looked 
back, and saw him hastening away with great precip- 
itation. I presume he had angled there for forty 
years without having his privacy thus intruded upon. 
I surprised hawks and herons and kingfishers. I 
came suddenly upon inusk-rats, and raced with them 



16 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

down the rifts, they having no time to take to the. 
holes. At one point, as I rounded an elbow in the 
stream, a black eagle sprang from the top of a dead 
tree, and flapped hurriedly away. A kingbird gave 
chase, and disappeared for some moments in the gulf 
between the great wings of the eagle, and I imagined 
him seated upon his back delivering his puny blows 
upon the royal bird. I interrupted two or three 
minks fishing and hunting along shore. They would 
dart under the bank when they saw me, then pres- 
ently thrust out their sharp, weasel-like noses, to see 
if the danger was imminent. At one point, in a little 
cove behind the willows, I surprised some school- 
girls, with skirts amazingly abbreviated, wading and 
playing in the water. And as much surprised as 
any, I aci sure, was that hard-worked looking house- 
wife, when I came up from under the bank in front 
of her house, and with pail in hand appeared at her 
door and asked for milk, taking the precaution to in 
timate that I had no objection to the yellow scum 
that is supposed to rise on a fresh article of that kind. 

" What kind of milk do you watit? " 

" The best you have. Give me two quarts of it," 
I replied. 

" What do you want to do with it ? " with an anx- 
ious tone, as if I might want to blow up something 
or burn her barns with it. 

" Oh, drink it," I answered, as if I frequently put 
milk to that use. 

" Well, I suppose I can get you some ; " and she 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 17 

presently reappeared with swimming pail, with those 
little yellow flakes floating about upon it that one 
likes to see. 

I passed several low dams the second day, but had 
no trouble. I dismounted and stood upon the apron, 
and the boat, with plenty of line, came over as 
lightly as a chip, and swung around in the eddy be- 
low like a steed that knows its master. In the after- 
noon, while slowly drifting down a long eddy, the 
moist southwest wind brought me the welcome odor 
of strawberries, and running ashore by a meadow, a 
short distance below, I was soon parting the daisies 
and filling my cup with the dead-ripe fruit. Berries, 
be they red, blue, or black, seem like a special provi- 
dence to the camper-out ; they are luxuries he has 
not counted on, and I prized these accordingly. 
Later in the day it threatened rain, and I drew up to 
shore under the shelter of some thick overhanging 
hemlocks, and proceeded to eat my berries and milk, 
glad of an excuse not to delay my lunch longer. 
While tarrying here I heard young voices up stream, 
and looking in that direction saw two boys coming 
down the rapids on rude floats. They were racing 
along at a lively pace, each with a pole in his hand, 
dexterously avoiding the rocks and the breakers, and 
schooling themselves thus early in the duties and 
perils of the raftsmen. As they saw me one observed 
to the other, 

" There is the man we saw go by when we were 
Building our floats. If we had known he was coming 
2 



18 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

go far, may be we could have got him to give us a 
ride." 

They drew near, guided their crafts to shore beside 
me, and tied up, their poles answering for hawsers. 
They proved to be Johnny and Denny Dwire, aged 
ten and twelve. They were friendlv boys, and 
though not a bit bashful were not a bit impertinent. 
And Johnny, who did the most of the talking, had 
such a sweet, musical voice ; it was like a bird's. It 
seems Denny had run away, a day or two before, to 
his uncle's, five miles above, and Johnny had been 
after him, and was bringing his prisoner home on a 
float ; and it was hard to tell which was enjoying the 
fun most, the captor or the captured. 

" Why did you run away ? " said I to Denny. 

" Oh, 'cause," replied he, with an air which said 
plainly, "The reasons are too numerous to mention." 

" Boys, you know, will do so, sometimes," said 
Johnny, and he smiled upon his brother in a way 
that made me think they had a very good under- 
standing upon the subject. 

They could both swim, yet their floats looked very 
perilous : three pieces of old plank or slabs, with two 
cross-pieces and a fragment of a board for a rider, 
and made without nails or withes. 

"In some places, said Johnny, "one plank was 
here and another off there, but we managed, some- 
how, to keep atop of them." 

" Let 's leave our floats here, and ride with hiu 
tlie rest of the way," said one to the other. 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 19 

" All right ; may we, Mister ? " 

I assented, and we were soon afloat again. How 
they enjoyed the passage ; how smooth it was ; how 
the boat glided along ; how quickly she felt the pad- 
dle ! They admired her much ; they praised my 
steers man ship ; they praised my fish-pole and all my 
fixings down to my hateful rubber boots. When we 
stuck on the rifts, as we did several times, they leaped 
out quickly with their bare feet and legs, and pushed 
as off. 

" I think," said Johnny, " if you keep her straight 
and let her have her own way, she will find the 
deepest water. Don't you, Denny ? " 

" I think she will," .replied Denny ; and I found 
the boys were pretty nearly right. 

I tried them on a point of natural history. I had 
observed, coming along, a great many dead eels lying 
on the bottom of the river, that I supposed had died 
from spear wounds. " No," said Johnny, " they are 
lamper-eels. They die as soon as they have built 
their nests and laid their eggs." 

" Are you sure ? " 

" That's what they all say, and I know they are 
lampers." 

So I fished one up out of the deep water with my 
paddle-blade, and examined it ; and sure enough it 
was a lamprey. There was the row of holes along 
its head, and its ugly suction mouth. I had noticed 
their nests, too, all along, where the water in the 
pools shallowed to a few feet and began to hurry to- 



20 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

ward the rifts : they were low mounds of small stones, 
us if a bushel or more of large pebbles had been 
dumped upon the river bottom ; occasionally they 
were so near the surface as to make a big ripple. 
The eel attaches itself to the stones by its mouth, 
and thus moves them at will. An old fisherman told 
me that a strong man could not pull a large lamprey 
loose from a rock to which it had attached itself. It 
fastens to its prey in this way, and sucks the life out. 
A friend of mine says he once saw in the St. Law- 
rence a pike as long as his arm with a lamprey eel 
attached to him. The fish was nearly dead and was 
quite white, the eel had so sucked out his blood and 
substance. The fish, when seized, darts against rocks 
and stones, and tries in vain to rub the eel off", then 
succumbs to the sucker. 

"The lampers do not all die," said Denny, "be- 
cause they do not all spawn ; " and I observed that 
vhe dead ones were all of one size and doubtless of 
the same age. 

The lamprey is the octopus, the devil-fish of these 
waters, and there is, perhaps, no tragedy enacted 
here that equals that of one of these vampires slowly 
sucking the life out of a bass or a trout. 

o 

My boys went to school part of the time. Did they 
have a good teacher ? 

u Good enough for me," said Johnny. 

" Good enough for me," echoed Denny. 

Just below Bark-a-boom the name is worth keep 
jag _ they left me. I was loath to part with them 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 21 

jheir musical voices and their thorough good-fellow- 
hip had been very acceptable. With a little persua- 
sion, I think they would have left their home and 
humble fortunes, and gone a-roving with me. 

About four o'clock the warm, vapor-laden south- 
west wind brought forth the expected thunder-shower. 
I saw the storm rapidly developing behind the mount- 
ains in my front. Presently I came in sight of a 
long, covered wooden bridge that spanned the river 
about a mile ahead, and I put my paddle into the 
water with all my force to reach this cover before the 
storm. It was neck and neck most of the way. The 
storm had the wind, and I had it in my teeth. 
The bridge was at Shavertown, and it was by a close 
shave that I got under it before the rain was upon 
me. How it poured and rattled and whipped in around 
the abutment of the bridge to reach me ! I looked 
out well satisfied upon the foaming water, upon the 
wet, unpainted houses and barns of the Shavertown- 
ers, and upon the trees, 

" Caught and cuffed by the gale.'* 

A little hawk the spotted-winged night-hawk 
wart also roughly used by the storm. He faced it 
bravely, and beat and beat, but was unable to stem it, 
or even hold his own ; gradually he drifted back, till 
be was lost to sight in the wet obscurity. The water 
ji the river rose an inch while I waited, about three 
quarters of an hour. Only one man, I reckon, saw 
jae in Shavertowu, and be came and gossiped with 
lie from the bank above when the srorm had abated. 



22 PEPACTON. A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

The second niglit I stopped at the sign of the elm 
tree. The woods were too wet, and I concluded to 
make my boat my bed. A superb elm, on a smooth 
grassy plain a few feet from the water's edge, looked 
hospitable in the twilight, and I drew my boat up be- 
neath it. I hung my clothes on the jagged edges oi 
its rough bark, and went to bed with the moon, " in 
her third quarter," peeping under the branches upon 
me. I had been reading Stevenson's amusing " Trav- 
els with a Donkey," and the lines he quotes from an 
old play kept running in my head : 

" The bed was made, the room was fit, 
By punctual eve the stars were lit ; 
The air was sweet, the water ran ; 
No need was there for maid or :nan, 
When we put up, my ass and I, 
At God's green caravanserai." 

But the stately elm played me a trick : it slyly and 
at long intervals let great drops of water down upon 
me ; now with a sharp smack upon my rubber coat ; 
then with a heavy thud upon the seat in the bow or 
4tern of my boat ; then plump into my upturned ear, 
or upon my uncovered arm, or with a ring into my 
tin cup, or with a splash into my coffee pail that stood 
at my side full of water from a spring I had just 
passed. After two hours' trial I found dropping off 
to sleep, under such circumstances, was out of the 
question ; so I sprang up, in no very amiable mood 
toward my host, and drew my boat clean from under 
the elm. I had refreshing slumber thenceforth, and 
the birds were astir in the morning long before I 
was. 



PEP ACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 23 

There is one way, at least, in which the denuding 
the country of its forests has lessened the rain-fall : in 
certain conditions of the atmosphere every tree is a 
great condenser of moisture, as I had just observed in 
the case of the old elm ; little showers are generated 
in their branches, and in the aggregate the amount of 
water precipitated in this way is considerable. Of a 
foggy summer morning one may see little puddles of 
water standing on the stones beneath maple-trees, 
along the street, and in winter, when there is a sud- 
den change from cold to warm, with fog, the water 
fairly runs down the trunks of the trees and streams 
from their naked branches. The temperature of the 
tree is so much below that of the atmosphere in such 
cases that the condensation is very rapid. In lieu of 
these arboreal rains we have the dew upon the grass ; 
but it is doubtful if the grass ever drips as does a 
tree. 

The birds, I say, were astir in the morning before 
I was, and some of them were more wakeful through 
the night, unless they sing in their dreams. At this 
season one may hear at intervals numerous bird voices 
during the night. The wLip-poor-will was piping 
when I lay down, and I still heard one when I woke 
ip after midnight. I heard the song-sparrow and the 
kingbird also, like watchers calling the hour, and sev- 
eral times I heard the cuckoo. Indeed, I am con- 
rinced that our cuckoo is to a considerable extent a 
uight bird, and that he moves about freely from tree 
to 'ree. His peculiar gutturai note, now here, now 



24 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

there, may be heard almost any summer night, in any 
part of the country, and occasionally his better known 
cuckoo call. He is a great recluse by day, but seems 
to wander abroad freely by night. 

The birds do indeed begin with the day. The far 
mer who is in the field at work while he can yet see 
stars catches their first matin hymns. In the longest 
June days the robin strikes up about half-past three 
o'clock, and is quickly followed by the sparrow, the 
oriole, the cat-bird, the wren, the wood-thrush, and all 
the rest of the tuneful choir. Along the Potomac I 
have heard the Virginia cardinal whistle so loudly and 
persistently in the tree-tops above that sleeping after 
four o'clock was out of the question. Just before the 
sun is up there is a marked lull, during which I im- 
agine the birds are at breakfast. While building 
their nest it is very early in the morning that they 
put in their big strokes ; the back of their day's work 
is broken before you have begun yours. 

A lady once asked me if there was any individual 
*ty among the birds, or if those of the same kind were 
as near alike as two peas. I was obliged to answei 
that to the eye those of the same species were as neai 
alike as two peas, but that in their songs there were 
often marks of originality. Caged or domesticated 
birds develop notes and traits of their own, and among 
the more familiar orchard and garden birds one may 
notice the same tendency. I observe a great variety 
of songs, and even qualities of voice, among the or 
oles and among the song-sparrows. On this trip mj 



PEPACTON : A SUMMER VOYAGE. 25 

ear was especially attracted to some striking and orig- 
inal sparrow songs. At one point I was half afraid 
I had let pass an opportunity to identify a new war- 
bler, but finally concluded it was a song-sparrow. 
On another occasion I used to hear day after day a 
sparrow that appeared to have some organic defect 
in its voice : part of its song was scarcely above a 
whisper, as if the bird was suffering from a very bad 
cold. I have heard a bobolink and a hermit thrush 
with similar defects of voice. I have heard a robin 
with a part of the whistle of the quail in his song. 
It was out of time and out of tune, but the robin 
seemed insensible of the incongruity, and sang as 
loudly and as joyously as any of his mates. A cat- 
bird will sometimes show a special genius for mim- 
icry, and I have known one to suggest very plainly 
some notes of the bobolink. 

There are numerous long covered bridges spanning 
the Delaware, and under some of these I saw the 
cliff-swallow at home, the nests being fastened to the 
under sides of the timbers, as it were, suspended 
from the ceiling instead of being planted upon the 
shelving or perpendicular side, as is usual with them. 
To have laid the foundation, indeed, to have sprung 
the vault downward and finished it successfully, must 
have acquired special engineering skill. I had never 
before seen or heard of these nests being so placed. 
But birds are quick to adjust their needs to the exi- 
gencies of any case. Not long before I had seen in 
4 deserted house, on the head of the Rondout, tin 



26 PEP ACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

chimney-swallows entering the chamber through a 
Btove-pipe hole in the roof, and gluing their nests tc 
the sides of the rafters, like the barn-swallows. 

I was now, on the third day, well down in the 
wilds of Colchester, with a current that made between 
two and three miles an hour, just a summer idler's 
pace. The atmosphere of the river had improved 
much since the first day was, indeed, without 
taint, and the water was sweet and good. There 
were farm-houses at intervals of a mile or so ; but 
the amount of tillable land in the river valley or on 
the adjacent mountains was very small. Occasionally 
there would be forty or fifty acres of flat, usually in 
grass or corn, with a thrifty-looking farm-house. One 
could see how surely the land made the house and its 
surroundings ; good land bearing good buildings, and 
poor land poor. 

In mid-forenoon I reached the long placid eddy at 
Downsville, and here again fell in with two boys. 
They were out paddling about in a boat when I drew 
near, and they evidently regarded me in the light of 
a rare prize which fortune had wafted them. 

" Ain't you glad we come, Benny ? " I heard one 
of them observe to the other, as they were conduct- 
ing me to the best place to land. They were bright, 
good boys, off the same piece as my acquaintance of 
the day before, and about the same ages, differing 
only in being village boys. With what curiosity 
tliey looked me over! Where had I come from 
where was I going ; how long had I been on tht 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 27 

fray ; who built my boat ; was I a carpenter, to 
build such a neat craft, etc. They never had seen 
such a traveler before. Had I had no mishaps ? And 
then they bethought them of the dangerous passes 
that awaited me, and in good faith began to warn 
and advise me. They had heard the tales of rafts- 
men, and had conceived a vivid idea of the perils oi 
the river below, gauging their notions of it from the 
spring and fall freshets tossing about the heavy and 
cumbrous rafts. There was a whirlpool, a rock eddy, 
and a binocle within a mile. I might be caught in 
the biuocle, or engulfed in the whirlpool, or smashed 
up in the eddy. But I felt much reassured when 
they told me I had already passed several whirlpools 
and rock eddies ; but that terrible binocle, what 
was that? I had never heard of such a monster. 
Oh, it was a still, miry place at the head of a big 
eddy. The current might carry me up there, but I 
could easily get out again ; the rafts did. But there 
was another place I must beware of, where two ed- 
dies faced each other ; raftsmen were sometimes 
swept off there by the oars, and drowned. And 
when I came to rock eddy, which I would know, be- 
cause the river divided there (a part of the water be- 
ing afraid to risk the eddy, I suppose), I must go 
ashore and survey the pass ; but in any case it would 
&e pru-lent to keep to the left. I might stick on the 
rift, but that was nothing to being wrecked upon 
those rocks. The boys were quite in earnest, and I 
*)ld them I would walK cp to the village and post 



28 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

Borne letters to my friends before I braved all these 
dangers. So they marched me up the street, pointing 
out to their chums what they had found. 

" Going way to Phil What place is that near 
where the river goes into the sea ? " 

"Philadelphia?" 

" Yes ; thinks he may go way there. Won't he 
have fun ? " 

The boys escorted me about the town, then back 
to the river, and got in their boat and came down to 
the bend, where they could see me go through the 
whirlpool and pass the binocle (I am not sure about 
the orthography of the word, but I suppose it means 
a double, or a sort of mock eddy). I looked back as 
I shot over the rough current beside a gentle vortex, 
and saw them watching me with great interest. Rock 
eddy, also, was quite harmless, and I passed it with- 
out any preliminary survey. 

I nooned at Sodom, and found good milk in a 
humble cottage. In the afternoon I was amused by 
a great blue heron that kept flying up in advance of 
me. Every mile or so, as I rounded some point, I 
would come unexpectedly upon him, till finally he 
grew disgusted with my silent pursuit, and took a 
ong turn to the left up along the side of the mount- 
fdn, and passed back up the river, uttering a hoarse, 
low note. 

The wind still boded rain, and about four o'clock 
announced by deep-toned thunder and portentous 
slouds, it began to charge down the mountain side ii 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 29 

front of me. I ran ashore, covered my traps, and 
took my way up through an orchard to a quaint little 
farm-house. But there was not a soul about, outsicla 
or in, that I could find, though the door was unfast- 
ened ; so I went into an open shed with the hens 
and lounged upon some straw, while the unloosed 
floods came down. It was better than boating or 
fishing. Indeed, there are few summer pleasures to 
be placed before that of reclining at ease directly un- 
der a sloping roof, after toil or travel in the hot sun, 
and looking out into the rain-drenched air and fields. 
It is such a vital, yet soothing spectacle. We sym- 
pathize with the earth. We know how good a bath 
is, and the unspeakable deliciousness of water to a 
parched tongue. The office of the sunshine is slow, 
subtle, occult, unsuspected ; but when the clouds do 
their work the benefaction is so palpable and copious, 
so direct and wholesale, that all creatures take note 
of it, and for the most part rejoice in it. It is a com 
pletion, a consummation, a paying of a debt with a 
royal hand ; the measure is heaped and overflowing. 
It was the simple vapor of water that the clouds bor- 
rowed of the earth ; now they pay back more than 
water; the drops are charged with electricity and 
with the gases of the air, and have new solvent pow- 
ers. Then, how the slate is sponged off, and left all 
rlean and new again ! 

In the shed where I was sheltered were many 
relics and odds and ends of the farm. In juxtaposi- 
tion with two of the most stalwart wagon or truck 



80 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

wheels I ever looked upon was a cradle of ancient 
and peculiar make, an aristocratic cradle, with high- 
turned posts and an elaborately carved and molded 
body, that was suspended upon rods and swung from 
the top. How I should have liked to hear its history 
and the story of the lives it had rocked, as the raiu 
sang and the boughs tossed without. Above it was 
the cradle of a phoebe-bird saddled upon a stick that 
ran behind the rafter ; its occupants had not flown, 
and its story was easy to read. 

Soon after the first shock of the storm was over, 
and before I could see breaking sky, the birds tuned 
up with new ardor, the robin, the indigo bird, the 
purple finch, the sparrow, and in the meadow below 
the bobolink. The cockerel near me followed suit, 
and repeated his refrain till my meditations were so 
disturbed that I was compelled to eject him from the 
cover, albeit he had the best right there. But he 
crowed his defiance with drooping tail from the yard 
in front. I, too, had mentally crowed over the good 
fortune of the shower, but before I closed my eyes 
that night my crest was a good deal fallen, and I 
could have wished the friendly elements had not 
squared their accounts quite so readily and uproari- 
ously. 

The one shower did not exhaust the supply a bit ; 
Nature's hand was full of trumps yet, yea, and her 
sleeve too. I stopped at a trout-brook, which came 
down out of the mountains on the right, and took a 
few trout for my supper ; but its current wag too 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 31 

roily from the shower for fly-fishing. Another farm- 
house attracted me, but there was no one at home ; 
BO I picked a quart of strawberries in the meadow 
in front, not minding the wet grass, and about 
six o'clock, thinking another storm that had been 
threatening on my right had miscarried, I pushed off, 
and went floating down into the deepening gloom of 
the river valley. The mountains, densely wooded 
from base to summit, shut in the view on every 
hand. They cut in from the right and from the left, 
one ahead of the other, matching like the teeth of 
an enormous trap ; the river was caught and bent, 
but not long detained by them. Presently I saw the 
rain creeping slowly over them in my rear, for the 
wind had changed ; but I apprehended nothing but 
a moderate sundown drizzle, such as we often get 
from the tail end of a shower, and drew up in the 
eddy of a big rock under an overhanging tree till it 
should have passed. But it did not pass ; it thick- 
ened and deepened, and reached a steady pour by the 
time I had calculated the sun would be gilding the 
mountain tops. I had wrapped my rubber coat 
about my blankets and groceries, and bared my back 
to the storm. In sullen silence I saw the night set- 
tling down and the rain increasing ; my roof tree 
gave way, and every leaf poured its accumulated 
lirops upon me. There were streams and splashes 
where before there had been little more than a mist. 
[ was getting well soaked and uncomplimentary in 
ny remarks ou the weather. A saucy cat-bird, near 



82 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

by, flirted and squealed very plainly, " There ! there I 
What did I tell you I what did I tell you ! Pretty 
pickle ! pretty pickle ! pretty piokle to be in ! " But 
I had been in worse pickles, though if the water had 
been salt my pickling had been pretty thorough. 
Seeing the wind was in the northeast, and that the 
weather had fairly stolen a march on me, I let go my 
hold of the tree, and paddled rapidly to the opposite 
shore, which was low and pebbly, drew my boat up 
on a little peninsula, turned her over upon a spot 
which I cleared of its coarser stone, propped up one 
end with the seat, and crept beneath. I would now 
test the virtues of my craft as a roof, and I found she 
was without flaw, though she was pretty narrow. 
The tension of her timber was such that the rain 
upon her bottom made a low, musical hum. 

Crouched on my blankets and boughs, for I had 
gathered a good supply of the latter before the rain 
overtook me, and dry only about my middle, I 
placidly took life as it came. A great blue heron 
flew by, and let off something like ironical horse 
laughter. Before it became dark I proceeded to eat 
my supper, my berries, but not my trout. What 
n fuss we make about the "hulls" upon strawber- 
ries ! We are hypercritical ; we may yet be glad to 
dine off the hulls alone. Some people see something 
lo pick and carp at in every good that comes to 
them ; I was thankful that I had the berries, and re? 
olutely ignored their little scalloped ruffles, which I 
found pleased the eye and did not disturb the palata 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 33 

When bed-time arrived I found undressing a little 
awkward, my berth was so low ; there was plenty of 
room in the aisle, and the other passengers were 
nowhere to be seen, but I did not venture out. It 
rained nearly all night, but the train made good 
<peed, and reached the land of daybreak nearly on 
time. The water in the river had crept up during 
the night to within a few inches of my boat, but I 
rolled over and took another nap, all the same. Then 
I arose, had a delicious bath in the sweet, swift^run- 
ning current, and turned my thoughts toward break- 
fast. The making of the coffee was the only serious 
problem. With everything soaked and a fine rain 
still falling, how shall one build a fire ? I made my 
way to a little island above in quest of drift-wood. 
Before I had found the wood I chanced upon an- 
other patch of delicious wild strawberries, and took 
an appetizer of them out of hand. Presently I picked 
up a yellow birch stick the size of my arm. The 
wood was decayed, but the bark was perfect. I 
broke it in two, punched out the rotten wood, and 
had the bark intact. The fatty or resinous substance 
in this bark preserves it, and makes it excellent kind- 
ling. With some seasoned twigs and a scrap of paper 
I soon had a fire going that answered my every pur- 
pose. More berries were picked while the coffee was 
brewing, and the breakfast was a success. 

The camper-out often finds nimself in what seems 
a distressing predicament to people seated in their 
nug, well-ordered houses , but there is often a real 

3 



34 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

satisfaction when things come to their wovst, a 
satisfaction in seeing what a small matter it is, after 
all ; that one is really neither sugar nor salt, to bf 
afraid of the wet; and that life is just as well worth 
living beneath a scow or a dug-out as beneath the 
highest and broadest roof in Christendom. 

By ten o'clock it became necessary to move, on 
account of the rise of the water, arid as the rain had 
abated I picked up and continued my journey. Be- 
fore long, however, the rain increased again, and I 
took refuge in a barn. The snug, tree-embowered 
farm-house looked very inviting, just across the roa^ 
from the barn; but as no one was about, and no 
faces appeared at the window that I might judge of 
the inmates, I contented myself with the hospitality 
the barn offered, filling my pockets with some dry 
birch shavings I found there where the farmer had 
made an ox yoke, against the needs of the next kind- 
ling. 

After an hour's detention I was off again. I 
stopped at Baxter's Brook, which flows hard by the 
classic hamlet of Harvard, and tried for trout, but 
with poor success, as I did not think it worth while 
to go far up stream. 

At several points I saw rafts of hemlock lumber 
tied to the shore, ready to take advantage of the first 
freshet. Rafting is an important industry for a hun- 
dred miles or more along the Delaware. The lum- 
bermen sometimes take their families or friends, and 
have a jollification all the way to Trenton or to Phtt 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 35 

udelphia. In some places the speed is very great, 
almost equaling thai of an express train. The pas- 
sage of such places as Cochecton Falls and " Foul 
Rift" is attended with no little danger. The raft 
is guided by two immense oars, one before and one 
behind. I frequently saw these huge implements in 
the drift-wood along shore, suggesting some colossal 
race of men. The raftsmen have names of their 
own. From the upper Delaware, where I had set 
in, small rafts are run down which they call " colts." 
They come frisking down at a lively pace. At Han- 
cock they usually couple two rafts together, when I 
suppose they have a span of colts ; or do two colts 
make one horse ? Some parts of the framework of 
the raft they call "grubs;" much depends upon 
these grubs. The lumbermen were and are a hardy, 
virile race. The Hon. Charles Knapp, of Deposit, 
now eighty-three years of age, but with the look and 
step of a man of sixty, told me he had stood nearly 
all one December day in the water to his waist, re- 
constructing his raft, which had gone to pieces on 
the head of an island. Mr. Knapp had passed the 
first half of his life in Colchester and Hancock, and, 
although no sportsman, had once taken part in a 
great bear hunt there. The bear was an enormous 
one, and was hard pressed by a gang of men and 
dogs. Their muskets and assaults upon the beast 
with clubs had made no impression. Mr. Knapp 
saw where the bear was coming, and he thought he 
would show them how easy it was to dispatch a bear 



86 PEPACTON : A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

with a club, if you only knew where to strike. He 
had seen how quickly the largest hog would wilt be- 
neath a slight blow across the " small of the back." 
So, armed with an immense handspike, he took up a 
position by a large rock that the bear must pass. 
On she came, panting and nearly exhausted, and at 
the right moment down came the club with great 
force upon the small of her back. " If a fly had 
Alighted upon her," said Mr. Knapp, "I think she 
would have paid just as much attention to it as she 
did to me." 

Early in the afternoon I encountered another boy, 
Henry Ingersoll, who was so surprised by my sudden 
and unwonted appearance that he did not know east 
from west. " Which way is west ? " I inquired, to 
see if my own head was straight on the subject. 

" That way," he said, indicating east within a few 
degrees. 

"You are wrong," I replied. "Where does the 
gun rise ? " 

" There," he said, pointing almost in the direction 
he had pointed before. 

" But does not the sun rise in the east here as well 
&s elsewhere ? " I rejoined. 

u Well, they call that west, anyhow." 

But Henry's needle was subjected to a disturbing 
influence just then. His house was near the river, 
a-nd he was its sole guardian and keeper for the time 
his father had gone up to the next neighbor's (it war 
Sunday), and his sister had gone with the school 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 37 

mistress down the road to get black birch. lie came 
out in the road, with wide eyes, to view me as I 
passed, when I drew rein, and demanded the points 
of the compass, as above. Then I shook my sooty 
pail at him and asked for milk. Yes, I could have 
Borne milk, but I would have to wait till his sister 
came back ; after he had recovered a little, he con- 
cluded he could get it. lie came for my pail, and 
then his boyish curiosity appeared. My story inter- 
ested him immensely. He had seen twelve summers, 
but he had only been four miles from home up 
and down the river : he had been down to the East 
Branch, and he had been up to Trout Brook. He 
took a pecuniary interest in me. What did my pole 
cost ? What my rubber coat, and what my revolver ? 
The latter he must take in his hand ; he had never 
ceen such a thing to shoot with before in his life, etc. 

O 7 

He thought I might make the trip cheaper and easier 
by stage and by the cars. He went to school : there 
were six scholars in summer, one or two more in 
winter. The population is not crowded in the town 
of Hancock, certainly, and never will be. The peo- 
ple live close to the bone, as Thoreau would say, or 
rather close to the stump. Many years ago the young 
men there resolved upon having a ball. They con- 
cluded not to go to a hotel, on account of the ex- 
en se, and so chose a private house. There was a 
man in the neighborhood who could play the fife; he 
offered to furnish the music for seventy-five cents. 
But this was deemed too much, so one of the party 



38 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

agreed to whistle. History does not tell how many 
beaux there were bent upon this reckless enterprise, 
but there were three girls. For refreshments they 
bought a couple of gallons of whiskey and a few 
pounds of sugar. When the spree was over, and the 
expenses were reckoned up, there was a shilling 
a York shilling apiece to pay. Some of the rev- 
elers were dissatisfied with this charge, and intimated 
^lat the managers had not counted themselves in, but 
taxed the whole expense upon the rest of the party. 

As I moved on I saw Henry's sister and the school- 
mistress picking their way along the muddy road 
near the river's bank. One of them saw me, and, 
dropping her skirts, said to the other (I could read 
the motions), " See that man! " The other lowered 
her flounces, and looked up and down the road, then 
glanced over into the field, and lastly out upon the 
river. They paused and had a good look at me, 
though I could see that their impulse to run away, 
like that of a frightened deer, was strong. 

At the East Branch the Big Beaver Kill joins the 
.Delaware, almost doubling its volume. Here I struck 
the railroad, the forlorn Midland, and here another 
set of men and manners cropped out, what may 
oe called the railroad conglomerate overlying this 
mountain freestone. 

" Where did you steal that boat ? " and, " Wha* 
you running away for ? " greeted me from a hand 
car that went by. 

I paused for some time and watched the fish 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 39 

hawks, or ospreys, of which there were nearly a 
dozeii sailing about above the junction of the two 
streams, squealing and diving, and occasionally strik- 
ing a fish on the rifts. I am convinced that the fish 
hawk sometimes feeds on the wing. I saw him dc 
it on this and on another occasion. He raises him- 
self by a peculiar motion, and brings his head and 
his talons together, and apparently takes a bite of a 
fish. While doing this his flight presents a sharply 
undulating line ; at the crest of each rise the morsel 
is taken. 

In a long, deep eddy under the west shore I came 
upon a brood of wild ducks, the hooded merganser. 
The young were about half grown, but of course 
entirely destitute of plumage. They started off at 
great speed, kicking the water into foam behind 
them, the mother duck keeping upon their flank and 
rear. Near the outlet of the pool I saw them go 
ashore, and I expected they would conceal them- 
selves in the woods; but as I drew near the place 
they came out, and I saw by their motions they were 
going to make a rush by me up stream. At a signal 
from the old one, on they came, and passed within a 
few feet of me. It was almost incredible, the speed 
they made. Their pink feet were like swiftly revolv- 
ing wheels placed a little to the rear; their breasts 
just skimmed the surface, and the water was beaten 
into spray behind them. They had no need of wings ; 
even the mother bird did not use hers ; a steamboat 
sould hardly have kept up with them. I dropped my 



40 PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 

paddle, and cheered. They kept the race up for a 
long distance, and I saw them making a fresh spirt 
as I entered upon the rift and dropped quickly out 
of sight. I next disturbed an eagle in his medita- 
tions upon a dead tree-top, and a cat sprang out oi 
some weeds near the foot of the tree. Was he watch- 
ing for puss, while she was watching for some smaller 
prey? 

I passed Partridge Island which is or used to 
be the name of a post-office unwittingly, and en- 
camped for the night on an island near Hawk's 
Point. I slept in my boat on the beach, and in the 
morning my locks were literally wet with the dews 
of the night, and my blankets too ; so I waited for 
the sun to dry them. As I was gathering drift-wood 
for a fire, a voice came over from the shadows of the 
east shore : " Seems to me you lay abed pretty late ! " 

" I call this early," I rejoined, glancing at the sun. 

" Wall, it may be airly in the forenoon, but it 
ain't very airly in the mornin' ; " a distinction I was 
forced to admit. Before I had reembarked some 
cows came down to the shore, and I watched them 
ford the river to the island. They did it with great 
ease and precision. I was told they will sometimes, 
during high water, swim over to the islands, striking 
m well up stream, and swimming diagonally across. 
At one point some cattle had crossed the river, and 
evidently got into mischief, for a large dog rushed 
them down the bank into the current, and worried 
them all the way over, part of the time swimming 



PEPACTON: A SUMMER VOYAGE. 41 

and part of the time leaping very high, as a dog 
will in deep snow, coming down with a great splash. 
The cattle were shrouded with spray as they ran, 
and altogether it was a novel picture. 

My voyage ended that forenoon at Hancock, and 
was crowned by a few idyllic days with some friends 
in their cottage in the woods by Lake Oquaga, a 
body of crystal water on the hills near Deposit, and 
a haven as peaceful and perfect as voyager ever came 
to port in. 



SPRINGS. 



SPRINGS. 

I '11 show thee the best springs. TEMPEST. 

A MAN who came back to the place of his birth in 
the East, after an absence of a quarter of a century 
in the West, said the one thing he most desired to 
see about the old homestead was the spring. This, 
at least, he would find unchanged. Here his lost 
youth would come back to him. The faces of his 
father and mother he might not look upon ; but the 
face of the spring that had mirrored theirs and his 
own so oft, he fondly imagined would beam on him 
as of old. I can well believe that in that all but 
springless country in which he had cast his lot, the 
vision, the remembrance of the fountain that flowed 
by his father's doorway, so prodigal of its precious 
gifts, has awakened in him the keenest longings and 
regrets. 

Did he not remember the path, also ; for next to 
the spring itself is the path that leads to it. Indeed, 
of all foot-paths, the spring-path is the most suggest 
ve. 

This is a path with something at the end of it, 



46 SPRINGS 

and the best of good fortune awaits iiim who walks 
therein. It is a well-worn path, and, though gener- 
ally up or down a hill, it is the easiest of all paths to 
travel : we forget our fatigue when going to the 
spring, and we have lost it when we turn to come 
away. See with what alacrity the laborer hastens 
along it, all sweaty from the fields ; see the boy or 
girl running with pitcher or pail; see the welcome 
shade of the spreading tree that presides over its 
marvelous birth ! 

In the woods or on the mountain-side follow the 
path, and you are pretty sure to find a spring; all 
creatures are going that way night and day, and they 
make a path. 

A spring is always a vital point in the landscape ; 
it is indeed the eye of the fields, and how often, too, 
it has a noble eyebrow in the shape of an overhang- 
ing bank or ledge. Or else its site is marked by 
some tree which the pioneer has wisely left standing, 
and which sheds a coolness and freshness that make 
the water more sweet. In the shade of this tree the 
harvesters sit and eat their lunch and look out upon 
the quivering air of the fields. Here the Sunday 
saunterer stops and lounges with his book, and 
bathes his hands and face in the cool fountain. 
Hither the strawberry-girl comes with her basket 
and pauses a moment in the green shade. The 
plowman leaves his plow and in long strides ap- 
proaches the life-renewing spot, while his team, that 
cannot follow, look wistfully after him. Here thf 



SPRINGS. 47 

cattle love to pass the beat of the day, and hither 
come the birds to wash themselves and make their 
toilets. 

Indeed, a spring is always an oasis in the desert of 
-he fields. It is a creative and generative centre. It 
attracts all things to itself, the grasses, the mosses, 
the flowers, the wild plants, the great trees. The 
walker finds it out, the camping party seek it, the 
pioneer builds his hut or his house near it. When 
the settler or squatter has found a good spring, he 
has found a good place to begin life ; he has found 
the fountain-head of much that he is seeking in this 
world. The chances are that he has found a south- 
ern and eastern exposure ; for it is a fact that water 
does not readily flow north ; the valleys mostly open 
the other way ; and it is quite certain he has found a 
measure of salubrity ; for where water flows fever 
abideth not. The spring, too, keeps him to the right 
belt, out of the low valley, and off the top of the hill. 

When John Winthrop decided upon the site where 
now stands the city of Boston, as a proper place for 
a settlement, he was chiefly attracted by a l^irge and 
excellent spring of water that flowed there. The in- 
fant city was born of this fountain. 

There seems a kind of perpetual spring-time about 
the place where water issues from the ground a 
freshness and a greenness that are ever renewed. The 
tjrass never fades, the ground is never parched or 
fro/^n. There is warmth there in winter and cool- 
uess in summer. The temperature is equalized. ID 



48 SPRINGS. 

March or April the spring runs are a bright emerald, 
while the surrounding fields are yet brown and sere, 
and in fall they are yet green when the first snow 
covers them. Thus every fountain by the road-side 
is a fountain of youth and of life. This is what the 
old fables finally mean. 

An intermittent spring is shallow ; it has no deep 
root and is like an inconstant friend. But a peren- 
nial spring, one whose ways are appointed, whose 
foundation is established, what a profound and beau- 
tiful symbol! In fact, there is no more large and 
universal symbol in nature than the spring, if there 
is any other capable of such wide and various appli- 
cations. 

What preparation seems to have been made for it 
in the conformation of the ground, even in the deep 
underlying geological strata ! Vast rocks and ledges 
are piled for it, or cleft asunder that it may find a 
way. Sometimes it is a trickling thread of silver 
down the sides of a seamed and scarred precipice. 
Then again the stratified rock is like a just-lifted lid, 
from beneath which the water issues. Or it slips 
noiselessly out of a deep dimple in the fields. Occa- 
sionally it bubbles up in the valley as if forced up by 
che surrounding hills. Many springs, no doubt, find 
an outlet in the beds of the large rivers and lakes, and 
are unknown to all but the fishes. They probably 
find them out and make much of rhem. The trout 
certainly do. Find a place in the creek where a 
spring issues, or where it flows into it from a nea. 



SPRINGS. 49 

bank, and you have' found a most likely place for 
trout. They deposit their spawn there in the fall, 
warm their noses there in winter, and cool themselves 
there in summer. I have seen the patriarchs of the 
tribe of an old and much-fished stream, seven or eight 
enormous fellows, congregated in such a place. The 
boys found it out and went with a bag and bagged 
them all. In another place a trio of large trout, that 
knew and despised all the arts of the fishermen, took 
up their abode in a deep, dark hole in the edge of 
the wood, that had a spring flowing into a shallow 
part of it. In midsummer they were wont to come 
out from their safe retreat and bask in the spring, 
their immense bodies but a few inches under water. 
A youth, who had many times vainly sounded their 
dark hiding-place with his hook, happening to come 
along with his rifle one day, shot the three, one after 
another, killing them b.y the concussion of the bullet 
on the water immediately over them. 

The ocean itself is known to possess springs, copi- 
ous ones, in many places the fresh water rising up 
through the heavier salt as through a rock, and afford- 
ing supplies to vessels at the surface. Off the coast 
of Florida many of these submarine springs have 
oeen discovered, the outlet, probably, of the streams 
and rivers that disappear in the "sinks" of that State. 

It is a pleasant conception, that of the unscien- 
;ific folk, that the springs are fed directly by the sea, 
w that the earth is full of veins or arteries that con- 
nect with the great reservoir of waters. But wheP 
4 



50 SPRINGS. 

science turns the conception over and makes the con 
nection in the air disclosing the great water-main 
in the clouds, and that the mighty engine of the hy- 
draulic system of nature is the sun, the fact becomes 
even more poetical, does it not ? This is one of the 
many cases where science, instead of curtailing the 
imagination, makes new and large demands upon it. 

The hills are great sponges that do not and can- 
not hold the water that is precipitated upon them, 
but that let it filter through at the bottom. This is 
the way the sea has robbed the eartB of its various 
salts, its potash, its lime, its magnesia, and many other 
mineral elements. It is found that the oldest up- 
heavals, those sections of the country that have been 
longest exposed to the leeching and washing of the 
rains, are poorest in those substances that go to the 
making of the osseous frame-work of man and of the 
animals. Wheat does not grow well there, and the 
men born and reared there are apt to have brittle 
bones. An important part of those men went down 
stream, ages before they were born. The water of 
such sections is now soft and free from mineral sub- 
Btances, but not more wholesome on that account. 

The gigantic springs of the country that have not 
been caught in any of the great natural basins, are 
mostly confined to the limestone region of the Mid- 
dle and Southern States, the valley of Virginia 
and its continuation and deflections into Kentucky 
Tennessee, Northern Alabama, Georgia, and Flor- 
da. Through this belt are found the great cave* 



SPRINGS. 51 

jmd the subterranean rivers. The waters have here 
worked like enormous moles, and have honey-combed 
the foundations of the earth. They have great high- 
ways beneath the hills. Water charged with car- 
bonic acid gas has a very sharp tooth and a power- 
ful digestion, and no limestone rock can long resist 
it. Sherman's soldiers tell of a monster spring in 
Northern Alabama, a river leaping full-grown 
from the bosom of the earth ; and of another at the 
bottom of a large, deep pit in the rocks, that con- 
tinues its way under ground. 

There are many springs in Florida of this char- 
acter, large under-ground streams that have breath- 
ing holes, as it were, here and there. In some places 
the water rises and fills the bottoms of deep bowl- 
shaped depressions ; in other localities it is reached 
through round natural well-holes ; a bucket is let 
down by a rope, and if it becomes detached is quickly 
swept away by the current. Some of the Florida 
springs are perhaps the largest in the world, afford- 
ng room and depth enough for steamboats to move 
and turn in them. Green Cove Spring is said to be 
like a waterfall reversed ; a cataract rushing upward 
through a transparent liquid instead of leaping down- 
ward through the air. There are one or two of these 
enormous springs also in Northern Mississippi, 
springs so large that it seems as if the whole conti- 
nent must nurse them. 

The Valley of the Shenaudoah is remarkable for 
! ts large springs. The town of Winchester, a town of 



52 SPRINGS. 

neveral thousand inhabitants, is abundantly supplied 
with water from a single spring that issues on higher 
ground near by. Several other springs in the vi- 
cinity afford rare mill-power. At Harrisonburg, a 
county town farther up the valley, I was attracted 
by a low ornamental dome resting upon a circle of 
columns, on the edge of the square that contained the 
court-house, and was surprised to find that it gave 
shelter to an immense spring. This spring was also 
capable of watering the town or several towns ; stone 
steps lead down to it at the bottom of a large stone 
basin. There was a pretty constant string of pails 
to and from it. Aristotle called certain springs of 
his country " cements of society," because the young 
people so frequently met there and sang and con- 
versed ; and I have little doubt this spring is of like 
social importance. 

There is a famous spring at San Antonio, Texas, 
which is described by that excellent traveler, Fred- 
erick Law Olmsted. " The whole river," he says, 
* gushes up in one sparkling burst from the earth, 
with all the accessories of smaller springs, moss, peb- 
bles, foliage, seclusion, etc. Its effect is overpower- 
ing. It is beyond your possible conception of a 
spring." 

Of like copiousness and splendor is the Caledonia 
spring, or springs, in Western New York. They 
give birth to a white-pebbled, transparent strean: 
several rods wide and two or three feet deep, thai 
flows eighty barrels of water per second, and is alire 



SPRINGS. 58 

ttitli trout. The trout are fat and gamy even in 
winter. 

The largest spring in England, called the Well of 
St. Winifred, at Holywell, flows less than three bar- 
rels per second. I recently went many miles out of 
my way to see the famous trout spring in Warren 
County, New Jersey. This spring flows about one 
thousand gallons of water per minute, which has a 
uniform temperature of fifty degrees winter and sum- 
mer. It is near the Musconetcong Creek, which looks 
as if it were made up of similar springs. On the 
parched and sultry summer day upon which my visit 
fell, it was well worth walking many miles just to see 
such a volume of water issue from the ground. I 
felt with the boy Petrarch, when he first beheld a 
famous spring, that " Were I master of such a foun- 
tain I would prefer it to the finest of cities." A large 
oak leans down over the spring and affords an abun 
dance of shade. The water does not bubble up, bu 
comes straight out with great speed like a courier 
with important news, and as if its course under- 
ground had been a direct and an easy one for a long 
distance. Springs that issue in this way have a sort 
of vertebra, a ridgy and spine-like centre that sug- 
gests the gripe and push there is in this element. 

What would one not give for such a spring in his 
back-yard, or front-yard, or anywhere near his house, 
or in any of his fields ? One would be tempted to 
move his house to it, if the spring could not be 
brought to the house. Its mere poetic value and 



54 SPRINGS. 

suggestion would be worth all the art and ornament 
to be had. It would irrigate one's heart and char- 
acter as well as his acres. Then one might have a 
Naiad Queen to do his churning and to saw hia 
wood ; then one might " see his chore done by the 
gods themselves," as Emerson says, or by the nymphs, 
which is just as well. 

I know a homestead situated on one of the pict- 
uresque branch valleys of the Housatonic, that has 
Buch a spring flowing by the foundation walls of the 
house, and not a little of the strong overmastering 
local attachment that holds the owner there is born 
of that his native spring. He could not, if he 
would, break from it. He says that when he looks 
down into it he has a feeling that he is an amphibi- 
ous animal that has somehow got stranded. A long, 
gentle flight of stone steps leads from the back porch 
down to it under the branches of a lofty elm. It 
wells up through the white sand and gravel as through 
a sieve, and fills the broad space that has been ar- 
ranged for it so gently and imperceptibly that one 
does not suspect its copiousness until he has seen the 
overflow. It turns no wheel, yet it lends a pliant 
hand to many of the affairs of that "household. It \s 
a refrigerator in summer anji a frost-proof envelope 
in winter, and a fountain of delights the year round. 
Trout come up from the Weebutook River and dwell 
there and become domesticated, and take lumps oi 
butter from your hand, or rake the ends of you! 
fingers if you tempt them. is a kind of sparkling 



SPRINGS. 55 

and ever-washed larder. Where are the berries ? 
where is the butter, the milk, the steak, the melon ? 
In the spring. It preserves, it ventilates, it cleanses. 
It is a board of health and general purveyor. It is 
equally for use and for pleasure. Nothing degrades 
it, and nothing can enhance its beauty. It is picture 
and parable, and an instrument of music. It is serv- 
ant and divinity in one. The milk of forty cows is 
cooled in it, and never a drop gets into the cans, 
though they are plunged to the brim. It is as in- 
sensible to drought and rain as to heat and cold. It 
is planted upon the sand and yet it abideth like a 
house upon a rock. It evidently has some relation to 
a little brook that flows down through a deep notch 
in the hills half a mile distant, because on one occa- 
sion, when the brook was being ditched or dammed, 
the spring showed great perturbation. Every nymph 
in it was filled with sudden alarm and kicked up a 
commotion. 

In some sections of the country, when there is no 
spring near the house, the farmer, with much labor 
and pains, brings one from some up-lying field or 
wood. Pine and poplar logs are bored and laid in a 
trench, and the spring practically moved to the de- 
sired spot. The ancient Persians had a law, that 
whoever thus conveyed the water of a spring to a spot 
not watered before should enjoy many immunities 
under the state not granted to others. 

Hilly and mountainous countries do not always 
Abound in good springs. When the stratum is verti 



56 SPRINGS. 

cal, or has too great a dip, the water is not collected 
in large veins, but is rather held as it falls and oozes 
out slowly at the surface over the top of the rock. 
On this account one of the most famous grass and 
dairy sections of New York is poorly supplied with 
springs. Every creek starts in a bog or marsh, and 
good water can be had only by excavating. 

What a charm lurks about those springs that are 
found near the tops of mountains, so small that they 
get lost amid the rocks and debris and never reach 
the valley, and so cold that they make the throat 
ache ! Every hunter and mountain-climber can tell 
you of such usually on the last rise before the sum- 
mit is cleared. It is eminently the hunter's spring. 
I do not know whether or not the foxes and other 
wild creatures lap at it, but their pursuers are quite 
apt to pause there and take breath or eat their lunch. 
The mountain-climbers in summer hail it with a 
shout. It is always a surprise, and raises the spirits 
of the dullest. Then it seems to be born of wildness 
and remoteness, and to savor of some special benefit 
or good fortune. A spring in the valley is an idyl, 
but a spring on the mountain is a genuine lyrical 
touch. It imparts a mild thrill ; and if one were to 
call any springs u miracles," as the natives of Cash- 
nere are said to regard their fountains, it would be 
fcuch as these. 

What secret attraction draws one in his summei 
walk to touch at all the springs on his route, and to 
pauce a moment at each, as if what he was in ques 



SPRINGS. 57 

Df would be likely to turn up there? I can seldom 
pass a spring without doing homage to it. It is the 
shrine at which I oftenest worship. If I find one 
fouled with leaves or trodden full by cattle, I take as 
much pleasure in cleaning it out as a devotee in set- 
ting up the broken image of his Saint. Though I 
chance not to want to drink there, I like to behold a 
clear fountain, and I may want to drink next time 
I pass, or some traveler, or heifer, or milch cow may. 
Leaves have a strange fatality for the spring. They 
come from afar to get into it. In a grove or in the 
woods they drift into it and cover it up like snow. 
Late in November, in clearing one out, I brought 
forth a frog from his hibernacle in the leaves at the 
bottom. He was very black and he rushed about in 
a bewildered manner like one suddenly aroused from 
his sleep. 

There is no place more suitable for statuary than 
about a spring or fountain, especially in parks or im- 
proved fields. Here one seems to expect to see fig- 
ures and bending forms. " Where a spring rises or 
a river flows," says Seneca, " there should we build 
altars, and offer sacrifices." 

I have spoken of the hunter's spring. The travel- 
er's spring is a little cup or saucer-shaped fountain 
Bet in the bank by the roadside. The harvester's 
spring is beneath a wide-spreading tree in the fields. 
The lover's spring is down a lane under a hill. There 
is a good screen of rocks and bushes. The hermit's 
ipring is on the margin of a lake in the woods. The 



58 SPRINGS. 

fisherman's spring is by the river. The miner finds hia 
spring in the bowels of the mountain. The soldier's 
spring is wherever he can fill his canteen. The spring 
where school-boys go to fill the pail is a long way up 
or down a hill, and has just been roiled by a frog or 
musk-rat, and the boys have to wait till it settles. 
There is yet the milkman's spring that never dries, 
the water of which is milky and opaque. Sometimes 
it flows out of a chalk cliff. This latter is a hard 
spring : all the others are soft. 

There is another side to this subject, the marvel- 
ous, not to say the miraculous ; and if I were to 
advert to all the curious or infernal springs that 
are described by travelers or others, the sulphur 
springs, the mud springs, the sour springs, the soap 
springs, the soda springs, the blowing springs, the 
spouting springs, the boiling springs not one mile 
from Tophet, the springs that rise and fall with the 
tide, the spring spoken of by Vitruvius, that gave un- 
wonted loudness to the voice ; the spring that Plu- 
tarch tells about, that had something of the flavor of 
wine, because it was supposed that Bacchus had been 
washed in it immediately after his birth ; the spring 
that Herodotus describes, wise man and credulous 
boy that he was, called the " Fountain of the 
Sun," which was warm at dawn, cold at noon, and 
hot at midnight ; the springs at San Filippo, Italy, 
that have built up a calcareous wall over a mile long 
and several hundred feet thick ; the renowned springs 
if Cashmere, that are believed by the people to b 



SPRINGS. 69 

the source of the comeliness of their women, etc., 
if I were to follow up my subject in this direction, I 
say, it would lead me into deeper and more troubled 
waters than I am in quest of at present. 

Pliny, in a letter to one of his friends, giv-es the fol- 
lowing account of a spring that flowed near his Lau- 
ren tine villa: 

" There is a spring which rises in a neighboring mount- 
ain, and running among the rocks is received into a little 
banqueting-room, artificially formed for that purpose, 
from whence, after being detained a short time, it falls 
into the Larian Lake. The nature of this spring is ex- 
tremely curious: it ebbs and flows regularly three times 
a day. The increase and decrease are plainly visible, 
and exceedingly interesting to observe. You sit down 
by the side of the fountain, and while you are taking a re- 
past and drinking its water, which is exceedingly cool, you 
see it gradually rise and fall. If you place a ring or any- 
thing else at the bottom, when it is dry, the water creeps 
gradually up, first gently washing, finally covering it en- 
tirely, and then, little by little, subsides again. If you 
wait long enough, you may see it thus alternately advance 
and recede three successive times." 

Pliny suggests four or five explanations of this 
phenomenon, but is probably wide of the mark in all 
but the fourth one : 

" Or is there rather a certain reservoir that contains 
these waters in the bowels of the earth, and while it ii 
recruiting its discharges, the stream in consequence flows 
more slowly and ;- l^s quantity, but, when it has col- 



80 SPRINGS. 

lected its due measure, runs on again in its usual strength 
and fullness." 

There are several of these intermitting springs in 
different parts of the world, and they are perhaps all 
to be explained on the principle of the siphon. 

In the Idyls of Theocritus there are frequent allu- 
sions to springs. It was at a spring and a mount- 
ain spring at that that Castor and Pollux encoun- 
tered the plug-ugly Amycus : 

" And spying on a mountain a wild wood of vast size, 
they found under a smooth cliff an ever-flowing spring, 
filled with pure water, and the pebbles beneath seemed 
like crystal or silver from the depths ; and near there had 
grown tall pines, and poplars, and plane-trees, and cy- 
presses with leafy tops, and fragrant flowers, pleasant 
work for hairy bees," etc. 

Or the story of Hylas, the auburn-haired boy, who 
went to the spring to fetch water for supper for Her- 
cules and stanch Telamon, and was seized by the 
enamored nymphs and drawn in. The spring was evi- 
dently a marsh or meadow spring : it was in a " low-ly- 
ing spot, and around it grew many rushes, and the pale 
blue swallow-wort, and green maiden hair, and bloom- 
ing parsley, and conch grass stretching through the 
marshes." As Hercules was tramping through the 
bog, club in hand, and shouting " Hylas ! " to the full 
depth of his throat, he heard a thin voice come from 
the water, it was Hylas responding, and Hylas, in 
the shape of the little frog, has been calling from oui 
tnaish springs ever since. 



SPRINGS. 61 

The characteristic flavor and suggestion of these 
Idyls is like pure spring water. This is, perhaps, 
why the modern reader is apt to be disappointed in 
them when he takes them up for the first time. They 
appear minor and literal and tasteless, as does most 
ancient poetry ; but it is mainly because we have got 
to the fountain head, and have come in contact with 
a mind that has been but little shaped by artificial 
indoor influences. The stream of literature is now 
much fuller and broader than it was in ancient times, 
with currents and counter-currents, and diverse and 
curious phases ; but the primitive sources seem far 
behind us, and for the refreshment of simple spring 
water in art we must still go back to Greek poetry. 



IN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

THERE is no creature with which man has sur- 
rounded himself that seems so much like a prod- 
uct of civilization, so much like the result of de- 
velopment on special lines and in special fields, aa 
the honey-bee. Indeed, a colony of bees, with their 
neatness and love of order, their division of labor, 
their public spiritedness, their thrift, their complex 
economies and their inordinate love of gain, seems as 
far removed from a condition of rude nature as does 
a walled city or a cathedral town. Our native bee, on 
the other hand, " the burly, dozing bumble-bee," af- 
fects one more like the rude, untutored savage. He 
has learned nothing from experience. He lives from 
hand to mouth. He luxuriates in time of plenty, 
and he starves in times of scarcity. He lives in a 
rude nest or in a hole in the ground, and in small 
communities ; he builds a few deep cells or sacks in 
which he stores a little honey and bee-bread for his 
young, but as a worker in wax he is of the most 
primitive and awkward. The Indian regarded the 
honey-bee as an ill-omen. She was the white man's 



66 AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

fly. In fact she was the epitome of the white man 
himself. She has the white man's craftiness, his in- 
dustry, his architectural skill, his neatness and love 
of system, his foresight; and above all, his eager, 
miserly habits. The honey-bee's great ambition is to 
be rich, to lay up great stores, to possess the sweet 
of every flower that blooms. She is more than prov- 
ident. Enough will not satisfy her ; she must have 
all she can get by hook or by crook. She comes 
from the oldest country, Asia, and thrives best in 
the most fertile and long-settled lands. 

Yet the fact remains that the honey-bee is essen- 
tially a wild creature, and never has been and can- 
not be thoroughly domesticated. Its proper home is 
the woods, and thither every new swarm counts on 
going ; and thither many do go in spite of the care 
and watchfulness of the bee-keeper. If the woods 
in any given locality are deficient in trees with suit- 
able cavities the bees resort to all sorts of make- 
shifts ; they go into chimneys, into barns and out- 
houses, under stones, into rocks, and so forth. Sev- 
eral chimneys in my locality with disused flues are 
taken possession of by colonies of bees nearly every 
Reason. One day while bee-hunting I developed a 
line that went toward a farm-house where I had rea- 
son to believe no bees were kept. I followed it up 
and questioned the farmer about his bees. He said 
he kept no bees, but that a swarm had taken pos- 
session of his chimney, and another had gone under 
the clapboards in the gable end of his house. He 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 67 

had taken a large lot of honey out of both places 
the year before. Another farmer told me that one 
day his family had seen a number of bees examining 
a knot-hole in the side of his house ; the next day as 
they were sitting down to dinner their attention was 
attracted by a loud humming noise, when they dis- 
covered a swarm of bees settling upon the side of the 
bouse and pouring into the knot-hole. In subse- 
quent years other swarms came to the same place, 

Apparently every swarm of bees before it leaves 
the parent hive sends out exploring parties to look 
up the future home. The woods and groves are 
searched through and through, and no doubt the pri- 
vacy of many a squirrel and many a wood mouse is 
intruded upon. What cozy nooks and retreats they 
do spy out, so much more attractive than the painted 
hive in the garden, so much cooler in summer and so 
much warmer in winter ! 

The bee is in the main an honest citizen ; she pre- 
fers legitimate to illegitimate business ; she is never 
an outlaw until her proper sources of supply fail ; 
she will not touch honey as long as honey-yielding 
flowers can be found ; she always prefers to go to 
the fountain-head, and dislikes to take her sweets at 
second hand. But in the fall after the flowers have 
failed she can be tempted. The bee-hunter takes 
advantage of this fact ; he betrays her with a little 
honey. He wants to steal her stores, and he first 
encourages her to steal his, then follows the thief 

O ' 

home with her booty. This is the whole trick of the 



68 AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

bee-hunter. The bees never suspect his game, else 
by taking a circuitous route they could easily baffle 
him. But the honey-bee has absolutely no wit or 
cunning outside of her special gifts as a gatherer and 
Btorer of honey. She is a simple-minded creature 
and can be imposed upon by any novice. Yet it is 
not every novice that can find a bee-tree. The 
sportsman may track bis game to its retreat by the 
aid of his dog, but in hunting the honey-bee one must 
be his own dog, and track his game through an ele- 
ment in which it leaves no trail. It is a task for a 
sharp, quick eye, and may test the resources of the 
best wood-craft. One autumn when I devoted much 
time to this pursuit, as the best means of getting 
at nature and the open-air exhilaration, my eye be- 
came so trained that bees were nearly as easy to 
it as birds. I saw and heard bees wherever I went. 
One day, standing on a street corner in a great city, 
I saw above the trucks and the traffic a line of bees 
carrying off sweets from some grocery or confection- 
ery shop. 

One looks upon the woods with a new interest 
when he suspects they hold a colony of bees. What 
a pleasing secret it is ; a tree with a heart of comb 
honey, a decayed oak or maple with a bit of Sicily 
or Mount Ilymettus stowed away in its trunk or 
branches ; secret chambers where lies hidden the 
wealth of ten thousand little freebooters, great nug- 
gets and wedges of precious ore gathered with risk 
and labor from every field and wood about. 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 69 

But if you would know the delights of bee-hunt- 
ing, and how many sweets such a trip yields beside 
honey, come with me some bright, warm, Jate Sep- 
tember or early October day. It is the golden season 
of the year, and any errand or pursuit that takes us 
abroad upon the hills or by the painted woods and 
along the amber colored streams at such a time is 
enough. So, with haversacks filled with grapes and 
peaches and apples and a bottle of milk, for we shall 
not be home to dinner, and armed with a compass, 
a hatchet, a pail and a box with a piece of comb 
honey neatly fitted into it any box the size of your 
hand with a lid will do nearly as well as the elaborate 
and ingenious contrivance of the regular bee-hunter 
we sally forth. Our course at first lies along the 
highway under great chestnut-trees whose nuts are 
just dropping, then through an orchard and across a 
little creek, thence gently rising through a long series 
of cultivated fields toward some high uplying land 
behind which rises a rugged wooded ridge or mount- 
ain, the most sightly point in all this section. Be- 
hind this ridge for several miles the country is wild, 
wooded, and rocky, and is no doubt the home of 
qany wild swarms of bees. What a gleeful uproar 
the robins, cedar-birds, high-holes and cow black- 
b.rds make amid the black cherry trees as we pass 
along. The raccoons, too, have been here after black 
cherries, and we see their marks at various points. 
Several crows are walking about a newly sowed 
irheat field we pass through, and we pause to note 



70 AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

their graceful movements and glossy coats. I have 
seen no bird walk the ground with just the same air 
the crow does. It is not exactly pride ; there is no 
strut or swagger in it, though perhaps just a little 
condescension ; it is the contented, complaisant, and 
self-possessed gait of a lord over his domains. All 
these acres are mine, he says, and all these crops ; 
men plow and sow for me, and I stay here or go 
there, and find life sweet and good wherever I am. 
The hawk looks awkward and out of place on the 
ground ; the game birds hurry and skulk, but the 
crow is at home and treads the earth as if there were 
none to molest or make him afraid. 

The crows we have always with us, but it is not 
every day or every season that one sees an eagle. 
Hence I must preserve the memory of one I saw the 
last day I went bee-hunting. As I was laboring up 
the side of a mountain at the head of a valley, the 
noble bird sprang from the top of a dry tree above 
me and came sailing directly over my head. I saw 
him bend his eye down upon me, and I could hear 
the low hum of his plumage as if the web of every 
quill in his great wings vibrated in his strong, level 
light. I watched him as long as my eye could hold 
.iim. When he was fairly clear of the mountain he 
began that sweeping spiral movement in which he 
climbs the sky. Up and up he went without once 
breaking his majestic poise till he appeared to sight 
some far-off alien geography, when he bent his course 
thitherward and gradually vanished in the blue depth* 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 71 

fhe eagle is a bird of large ideas, he embraces long 
distances ; the continent is his home. I never look 
upon one without emotion ; I follow him with my eye 
as long as I can. I think of Canada, of the Great 
Lakes, of the Rocky Mountains, of the wild and 
sounding sea-coast. The waters are his, and the 
woods and the inaccessible cliffs. He pierces behind 
the veil of the storm, and his joy is height and depth 
and vast spaces. 

We go out of our way to touch at a spring run in 
the edge of the woods, and are lucky to find a single 
scarlet lobelia lingering there. It seems almost to 
light up the gloom with its intense bit of color. Be- 
side a ditch in a field beyond we find the great blue 
lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica), and near it amid the 
weeds and wild grasses and y purple asters the most 
beautiful of our fall flowers, the fringed gentian. 
What a rare and delicate, almost aristocratic look the 
gentian has amid its coarse, unkempt surroundings. 
It does not lure the bee but it lures and holds every 
passing human eye. If we strike through the corner 
of yonder woods, where the ground is moistened by 
hidden springs and where there is a little opening 
amid the trees, we shall find the closed gentian, a 
rare flower in this locality. I had walked this way 
many times before I chanced upon its retreat ; and 
then I was following a line of bees. I lost the bees 
but I got the gentians. How curious. 1 y this flower 
looks with its deep blue petals foiled together so 
*ightly a bud and yet a bloasom. It is ^he nun 



72 AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

among our wild flowers a form closely veiled and 
cloaked. The buccaneer bumble-bee sometimes tries 
to rifle it of its sweets. I have seen the blossom 
with the bee entombed in it. He had forced his way 
into the virgin corolla as if determined to* know its 
secret, but he had never returned with the knowl- 
edge he had gained. 

After a refreshing walk of a couple of miles we 
reach a point where we will make our first trial a 
high stone wall that runs parallel with the wooded 
ridge referred to, and separated from it by a broad 
field. There are bees at work there on that golden- 
rod and it requires but little manoeuvring to sweep 
one into our box. Almost any other creature rudely 
and suddenly arrested in its career and clapped into 
a cage, in this way would show great confusion and 
alarm. The bee is alarmed for a moment, but the bee 
has a passion stronger than its love of life or fear of 
death, namely, desire for Honey, not simply to eat, 
but to carry home as booty. " Such rage of honey in 
their bosom beats," says Virgil. It is quick to catch 
the scent of honey in the box, and as quick to fall 
to filling itself. We now set the box down upon the 
wall and gently remove the cover. The bee is head 
and shoulders in one of the half-filled cells, and is 
oblivious to everything else about it. Come rack, 
come ruin, it will die at work. We step back a few 
paces, and sit down upon the ground so as to bring 
Ihe box against the blue sky as a background. lu 
two or three minutes the bee is seen rising slowh 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 73 

ind heavily from the box. It seems loath to leave so 
much honey behind and it marks the place well. It 
mounts aloft in a rapidly increasing spiral, surveying 
the near and minute objects first, then the larger and 
more distant, till having circled above the spot five 
or six times and taken all its bearings it darts away 
for home. It is a good eye that holds fast to the bee 
till it is fairly off. Sometimes one's head will swim 
following it, and often one's eyes are put out by the 
sun. This bee gradually drifts down the hill, then 
strikes away toward a farm-house half a mile away 
where I know bees are kept. Then we try another 
and another, and the third bee, much to our satisfac- 
tion, goes straight toward the woods. We could see 
the brown speck against the darker background for 
many yards. The regular bee-hunter professes to be 
able to tell a wild bee from a tame one by the color, 
the former, he says, being lighter. But there is no 
difference; they are both 'alike in color and in man- 
ner. Young bees are lighter than old, and that is all 
there is of it. If a bee lived many years in the 
woods it would doubtless come to have some distin- 
guishing marks, but the life of a bee is only a few 
months at the farthest, and no change is wrought in 
this brief time. 

Our bees are all soon back, and more with them, 
for we have touched the box here and there with the 
~ork of a bottle of anise oil, and this fragrant and 
pungent oil will attract bees half a mile or more. 
When no flowers can be found this is the quickest 
way to obtain a be 



74 AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

It is a singular fact that when the bee first finds 
the hunter's box its first feeling is one of anger ; it 
is as mad as a hornet ; its tone changes, it sounds its 
shrill war trumpet and darts to and fro, and gives 
vent to its rage and indignation in no uncertain man- 
ner. It seems to scent foul play at once. It says, 
" Here is robbery ; here is the spoil of some hive, 
may be my own," and its blood is up. But its ruling 
passion soon comes to the surface, its avarice gets 
the better of its indignation, and it seems to say, 
" Well, I had better take possession of this and carry 
it home." So after many feints and approaches and 
dartings off with a loud angry hum as if it would 
none of it, the bee settles down and fills itself. 

It does not entirely cool off and get soberly to 
work till it has made two or three trips home with 
its booty. When other bees come, even if all from 
the same swarm, they quarrel and dispute over the 
box, and clip and dart at each other like bantam 
cocks. Apparently the ill feeling which the sight of 
the honey awakens is not one of jealousy or rivalry, 
but wrath. 

A bee will usually make three or four trips frorr 
the hunter's box before it brings back a companion, 
T suspect the bee does not tell its fellows what it ha? 
tound, but that they smell out the secret ; it doubt- 
less bears some evidence with it upon its feet or pro- 
boBcis that it has been upon honey-comb and not upon 
tlowers, and its companions take the hint and follow 
arriving always many seconds behind. Then thi 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 75 

quantity and quality of the booty would also betray 
it. No doubt, also, there are plenty of gossips about 
a hive that note and tell everything. " Oh, did you 
see that ? Peggy Mel came in a few moments ago 
in great haste, and one of the up-stairs packers says 
she was loaded till she groaned with apple-blossom 
honey which she deposited, and then rushed off again 
like mad. Apple-blossom honey in October! Fee, 
fi, fo, fum ! I smell something ! Let 's after." 

In about half an hour we have three well-defined 
lines of bees established two to farm-houses and 
one to the woods, and our box is being rapidly de- 
pleted of its honey. About every fourth bee goes to 
the woods, and now that they have learned the way 
thoroughly they do not make the long preliminary 
whirl above the box, but start directly from it. The 
woods are rough and dense and the hill steep, and we 
do not like to follow the line of bees until we have 
tried at least to settle the problem as to the distance 
they go into the woods whether the tree is on this 
side of the ridge or into the depth of the forest on 
the other side. So we shut up the box when it is 
full of bees and carry it about three hundred yards 
along the wall from which we are operating. When 
liberated, the bees, as they always will in such cases, 
go off in the same directions they have been going ; 
Jiey do not seem to know that they have been moved. 
But other bees have followed our scent, and it is not 
many minutes before a second line to the woods is 
established. This is called cross-lining the bees. The 



76 AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

new line makes a sharp angle with the other line, 
and we know at once that the tree is only a few 
rods into the woods. The two lines we have estab- 
lished form two sides of a triangle of which the wall 
is the base ; at the apex of the triangle, or where the 
two lines meet in the woods, we are sure to find the 
tree. We quickly follow up these lines, and where 
they pross each other on the side of the hill we scan 
every tree closely. I pause at the foot of an oak 
and examine a hole near the root ; now the bees are 
in this tree and their entrance is on the upper side 
near the ground not two feet from the hole I peer 
into, and yet so quiet and secret is their going and 
coming that I fail to discover them and pass on up 
the hill. Failing in this direction I return to the 
oak again, and then perceive the bees going out in a 
small crack in the tree. The bees do not know they 
are found out and that the game is in our hands, and 
are as oblivious of our presence as if we were ants 
or crickets. The indications are that the swarm is a 
email one, and the store of honey trifling. In " tak- 
ing up " a bee-tree it is usual first to kill or stupefy 
the bees with the fumes of burning sulphur or with 
tobacco smoke. But this course is impracticable on 
the present occasion, so we boldly and ruthlessly as- 
sault the tree with an ax we have procured. At the 
first blow the bees set up a loud buzzing, but we 
have no mercy, and the side of the cavity is soon cut 
Hway and the interior with its white-yellow mass oJ 
comb-honey is exposed, and not a bee strikes a blow 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 77 

in defense of its all. This may seem singular, but 
it has nearly always been my experience. When a 
iwarm of bees are thus rudely assaulted with an ax 
they evidently think the end of the world has come, 
and, like true misers as they are, each one seizes as 
much of the treasure as it can hold ; in other words, 
they all fall to and gorge themselves with honey, and 
calmly await the issue. While in this condition they 
make no defense and will not sting unless taken hold 
of. In fact they are as harmless as flies. Bees are 
always to be managed with boldness and decision. 
Any half-way measures, any timid poking about, any 
feeble attempts to reach their honey, are sure to be 
quickly resented. The popular notion that bees have 
a special antipathy toward certain persons and a lik- 
ing for certain others has only this fact at the bottom 
of it : they will sting a person who is afraid of them 
and goes skulking and dodging about, and they will 
not sting a person who faces them boldly and has no 
dread of them. They are like dogs. The way to 
disarm a vicious dog is to show him you do not fear 
him ; it is his turn to be afraid then. I never had 
any dread of bees and am seldom stung by them. I 
have climbed up into a large chestnut that contained 
a swarm in one of its cavities and chopped them out 
with an ax, being obliged at times to pause and brush 
the bewildered bees from my hands and face, and not 
been stung once. I have chopped a swarm out of 
an apple-tree in June and taken out the cards of 
and arranged them in a hive, and then dipped 



78 AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

out the bees with a dipper, and taken the 
home with me in pretty good condition, with scarcely 
any opposition on the part of the bees. In reach- 
ing your hand into the cavity to detach and remove 
the comb you are pretty sure to get stung, for when 
you touch the " business end " of a bee, it will sting 
even though its head be off. But the bee carries the 
antidote to its own poison. The best remedy for bee 
sting is honey, and when your hands are besmeared 
with honey, as they are sure to be on such occasions, 
the wound is scarcely more painful than the prick of 
a pin. Assault your bee-tree, then, boldly with your 
ax, and you will find that when the honey is exposed 
every bee has surrendered and the whole swarm is 
cowering in helpless bewilderment and terror. Our 
tree yields only a few pounds of honey, not enough 
to have lasted the swarm till January, but no matter : 
we have the less burden to carry. 

In the afternoon we go nearly half a mile farther 
along the ridge to a corn-field that lies immediately 
in front of the highest point of the mountain. The 
view is superb ; the ripe autumn landscape rolls away 
to the east, cut through by the great placid river; in 
the extreme north the wall of the Catskills stands out 
clear and strong, while in the south the mountains 
of the Highlands bound the view. The day is warm 
and the bees are very busy there in that neglected 
corner of the field, rich in asters, flea-bane, am) 
golden-rod. The corn has been cut, and upon a stout 
hut a few rods from the woods, which here droy 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 79 

quickly down from the precipitous heights, we set up 
our bee-box, touched again with the pungent oil. In 
a few moments a bee has found it ; she comes up to 
leeward, following the scent. On leaving the box she 
goes straight toward the woods. More bees quickly 
come and it is not long before the line is well estab- 
lished. Now we have recourse to the same tactics 
we employed before, and move along the ridge to 
another field to get our cross line. But the bees still 
go in almost the same direction they did from the 
corn stout. The tree is then either on the top of the 
mountain, or on the other or west side of it. We 
hesitate to make the plunge into the woods and seek 
to scale those precipices, for the eye can plainly see 
what is before us. As the afternoon sun gets lower 
the bees are seen with wonderful distinctness. They 
fly toward and under the sun and are in a strong 
light, while the near woods which form the back- 
ground are in deep shadow. They look like large 
luminous motes. Their swiftly vibrating, transparent 
wings surround their bodies with a shining nimbus 
that makes them visible for a long distance. They 
seem magnified many times. We see them bridge 
the little gulf between us and the woods, then rise 
up over the tree-tops with their burdens, swerving 
neither to the right hand nor to the left. It is al- 

o 

most pathetic to see them labor so, climbing the 
mountain and unwittingly guiding us to their treas- 
yres. When the sun gets down so that his direction 
orresponds exactly with the course of the bees, we 



80 AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

make the plunge. It proves even harder climbing 
than we had anticipated ; the mountain is faced by 
a broken and irregular wall of rock up which we pull 
ourselves slowly and cautiously by main strength. 
In half an hour, the perspiration streaming from 
every pore, we reach the summit. The trees here 
are all small, a second growth, and we are soon con- 
vinced the bees are not here. Then down we go on 
the other side, clambering down the rocky stair-ways 
till we reach quite a broad plateau that forms some- 
thing like the shoulder of the mountain. On the 
brink of this there are many large hemlocks, and we 
scan them closely and rap upon them with our ax. 
But not a bee is seen or heard ; we do not seem as 
near the tree as we were in the fields below ; yet if 
some divinity would only whisper the fact to us we 
are within a few rods of the coveted prize, which is 
not in one of the large hemlocks or oaks that absorb 
our attention, but in an old stub or stump not six feet 
high, and which we have seen and passed several 
times without giving it a thought. We go farther 
down the mountain and beat about to the right and 
left and get entangled in brush and arrested by prec- 
pices, and finally, as the day is nearly spent, give up 
the search and leave the woods quite baffled, but re- 
solved to return on the morrow. The next day we 
come back and commence operations in an opening 
in the woods well down on the side of the mountain, 
where we gave up the search. Our box is soon 
swarming with the eager bees, and they go back to 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 81 

*rard the summit we have passed. We follow back 
and establish a new line where the ground will per- 
mit ; then another and still another, and yet the rid- 
dle is not solved. One time we are south of them, 
then north, then the bees get up through the trees 
and we cannot tell where they go. But after much 
searching and after the mystery seems rather to 
deepen than to clear up, we chance to pause beside 
the old stump. A bee comes out of a small open- 
ing like that made by ants in decayed wood, rubs its 
eyes and examines its antenna as bees always do be- 
fore leaving their hive, then takes flight. At the 
same instant several bees come by us loaded with our 
honey and settle home with that peculiar low com- 
placent buzz of the well-filled insect. Here then is 
our idyl, our bit of Virgil and Theocritus, in a de- 
cayed stump of a hemlock tree. We could tear it 
open with our hands and a bear would find it an easy 
prize, and a rich one too, for we take from it fifty 
pounds of excellent honey. The bees have been 
here many years and have of course sent out swarm 
after swarm into the wilds. They have protected 
themselves against the weather and strengthened 
their shaky habitation by a copious use of wax. 

When a bee-tree is thus " taken up " in the middle 
of the day, of course a good many bees are away 
5rom home and have not heard the news. When 
they return and find the ground flowing with honey,* 
mid piles of bleeding combs lying about, they appar- 
ently do not recognize the place, and their first iu- 
6 



82 AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

Btinct is to fall to and fill themselves ; this done, their 
next thought is to carry it home, so they rise up 
slowly through the branches of the trees till they 
have attained an altitude that enables them to survey 
the scene, when they seem to say, " Why, this is 
home," and down they come again; beholding the 
wreck and ruins once more they still think there is 
some mistake, and get up a second or a third time 
and then drop back pitifully as before. It is the 
most pathetic sight of all, the surviving and bewil- 
dered bees struggling to save a few drops of their 
wasted treasures. 

Presently if there is another swarm in the woods 
robber-bees appear. You may know them by their 
saucy, chiding, devil-may-care hum. It is an ill wind 
that blows nobody good, and they make the most of 
the misfortune of their neighbors ; and thereby pave 
the way for their own ruin. The hunter marks their 
course and the next day looks them up. On this oc- 
casion the day was hot and the honey very fragrant, 
and a line of bees was soon established S. S. W. 
Though there was much refuse honey in the old 
stub, and though little golden rills trickled down the 
hill from it, and the near branches and saplings were 
besmeared with it where we wiped our murderous 
hands, yet not a drop was wasted. It was a feast to 
which not only honey-bees came, but bumble-bees, 
wasps, hornets, flies, ants. The bumble-bees, which 
at this season are hungry vagrants with no fixed 
place of abode, would gorge themselves, then creep 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 83 

oeneath the bits of empty comb or fragments of bark 
and pass the night, and renew the feast next day 
The bumble-bee is an insect of which the bee-huntei 
sees much. There are all sorts and sizes of them 
They are dull and clumsy compared with the honey- 
bee. Attracted in the fields by the bee -hunter's box, 
they will come up the wind on the scent and bkdder 
into it in the most stupid, lubberly fashion. 

The honey-bees that licked up our leavings on the 
old stub belonged to a swarm, as it proved, about 
half a mile farther down the ridge, and a few days 
afterward fate overtook them, and their stores in 
turn became the prey of another swarm in the vi 
cinity, which also tempted Providence and were over 
whelmed. The first mentioned swarm I had lineA 
from several points, and was following up- the clew 
over rocks and through gulleys, when I came to where 
a large hemlock had been felled a few years before 
and a swarm taken from a cavity near the top of it; 
fragments of the old comb were yet to be 3een. A 
few yards away stood another short, squatty hemlock, 
and I said my bees ought to be there. As I paused 
near it I noticed where t l i tree had been wounded 
vith an ax a couple of feet from the ground man/ 
years before. The wound had partially grown over, 
but there was an opening there that I did not see at 
the first glance. I was about to pass on when a bee 
passed me making that peculiar shrill, discordant 
hum that a bee makes when besmeared with honey 
I saw it alight in the partially closed wound and 



84 AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

crawl home ; then came others and others, little 
bands and squads t)f them heavily freighted with 
honey from the box. The tree was about twenty 
inches through and hollow at the butt, or from the 
ax mark down. This space the bees had completely 
filled with honey. With an ax we cut away the 
outer ring of live wood and exposed the treasure. 
Despite the utmost care, we wounded the comb so 
that little rills of the golden liquid issued from the 
root of the tree and trickled down the hill. 

The other bee-tree in the vicinity to which I have 
referred we found one warm November day in less 
than half an hour after entering the woods. It also 
was a hemlock that stood in a niche in a wall of 
hoary, moss-covered rocks thirty feet high. The tree 
hardly reached to the top of the precipice. The 
bees entered a small hole at the root, which was 
ueven or eight feet from the ground. The position 
was a striking one. Never did apiary have a finer 
outlook or more rugged surroundings. A black, 
wood-embraced lake lay at our feet ; the long pano- 
rama of the Catskills filled the far distance, and the 
more broken outlines of the Shawangunk range filled 
the rear. On every hand were precipices and a 
wild confusion of rocks and trees. 

The cavity occupied by the bees was about three 
feet and a half long and eight or ten inches in dia- 
meter. With an ax we cut away one side of the tree 
and laid bare its curiously wrought heart of honey. I/ 
was a most pleasing sight. What winding and dev* 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 85 

us wa) * .he bees had through their palace ! What 
great masses and blocks of snow-white comb there 
were ! Where it was sealed up, presenting that slightly 
dented, uneven surface, it looked like some precious 
ore. When we carried a large pail full of it out of 
the woods it seemed still more like ore. 

Your native bee-hunter predicates the distance of 
the tree by the time the bee occupies in making its 
first trip. But this is no certain guide. You are al- 
ways safe in calculating that the tree is inside of a 
mile, and you need not as a rule look for your bee's 
return under ten minutes. One day I picked up a 
bee in an opening in the woods and gave it honey, 
and it made three trips to my box with an interval 
ol about twelve minutes between them ; it returned 
alone each time; the tree, which I afterward found, 
was about half a mile distant. 

In lining bees through the woods the tactics of the 
hunter are to pause every twenty or thirty rods, lop 
away the branches or cut down the trees, and set the 
bees to work again. If they still go forward, he goes 
forward also and repeats his observations till the 
tree is found or till the bees turn and come back 
jpon the trail. Then he knows he has passed the 
tree, and he retraces his steps to a convenient dis- 
tance and tries again, and thus quickly reduces the 
space to be looked over till the swarm is traced 
home. On one occasion m a wild rocky wood, 
where the surface alternated between deep gulfs and 
chasms filled with thick, heavy growths of timber 



86 Ati IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

md sharp, precipitous, rocky ridges like a tempest 
tossed sea, I carried my bees directly under their 
tree, and set them to work from a high, exposed 
ledge of rocks not thirty feet distant. One would 
have expected them under such circumstances to 
have gone straight home, as there were but few 
branches intervening, but they did not ; they labored 
up through the trees and attained an altitude above 
the woods as if they had miles to travel, and thus 
baffled me for hours. Bees will always do this. 
They are acquainted with the woods only from the 
top side, and from the air above ; they recognize 
home only by land-marks here, and in every instance 
they rise aloft to take their bearings. Think how 
familiar to them the topography of the forest sum- 
mits must be an umbrageous sea or plain where 
every mark and point is known. 

Another curious fact is that generally you will get 
track of a bee-tree sooner when you are half a mile 
from it than when you are only a few yards. Bees, 
like us human insects, have little faith in the near at 
hand ; they expect to make their fortune in a distant 
field, they are lured by the remote and the difficult, 
jind hence overlook the flower and the sweet at their 
rery door. On several occasions I have unwittingly 
set my box within a few paces of a bee-tree and 
wa'ted long for bees without getting them, when, OB 
removing to a distant field or opening in the woods 
I have got a clew at once. 

I have a theory that when bees leave the 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 87 

unless there is some special attraction in some other 
direction, they generally go against the wind. They 
would thus have the wind with them when they 
returned home heavily laden, and with these little 
navigators the difference is an important one. With 
a full cargo, a stiff head-wind is a great hindrance, 
but fresh and empty-handed they can face it with 
more ease. Virgil says bees bear gravel stones as 
ballast, but their only ballast is their honey bag. 
Hence, when I go bee-hunting, I prefer to get to 
windward of the woods in which the swarm is sup- 
posed to have taken refuge. 

Bees, like the milkman, like to be near a spring. 
They do water their honey, especially in a dry time. 
The liquid is then of course thicker and sweeter, and 
will bear diluting. Hence, old bee-hunters look for 
bee-trees along creeks and near spring runs in the 
woods. I once found a tree a long distance from 
any water, and the honey had a peculiar bitter flavor 
imparted to it, I was convinced, by rain water sucked 
from the decayed and spongy hemlock tree, in which 
fie swarm was found. In cutting into the tree, the 
\crth side of it was found to be saturated with water 
ike a spring, which ran out in big drops, and had a 
jitter flavor. The bees had thus found a spring or 
a cistern in their own house. 

Bees are exposed to many hardships and many 
dangers. Winds and storms prove as disastrous to 
them as to other navigators. Black spiders lie ifc 
tfait for thpm as do brigands for travelers. One day 



8^ AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 

AS I was looking for a bee amid some golden-rod, 1 
spied one partly concealed under a leaf. Its baskets 
were full of pollen, and it did not move. On lifting 
up the leaf I discovered that a hairy spider was am- 
bushed there and had the bee by the throat. The 
vampire was evidently afraid of the bee's sting, and 
was holding it by the throat till quite sure of its death. 
Virgil speaks of the painted lizard, perhaps a species 
of salamander, as an enemy of the honey-bee. We 
have no lizard that destroys the bee ; but our tree* 
toad, ambushed among the apple and cherry blossoms, 
snaps them up wholesale. Quick as lightning that 
subtle but clammy tongue darts forth, and the unsus- 
pecting bee is gone. Virgil also accuses the titmouse 
and the Woodpecker of preying upon the bees, and 
our kingbird has been charged with the like crime, 
but the latter devours only the drones. The workers 
are either too small and quick for it or else it dreads 
their sting. 

Virgil, by the way, had little more than a child's 
knowledge of the honey-bee. There is little fact 
and much fable in his fourth Georgic. If he had 
ever kept bees himself, or even visited an apiary, it is 
hard to see how he could have believed that the bee 
in its flight abroad carried a gravel stone for ballast 

*' And as when empty barks on billows float, 
With sandy ballast sailors trim the boat; 
So bees bear gravel stones, whose poising weight 
Steers through the whistling winds their steady flight ; " 

or that when two colonies made war upon each othei 



AN IDYL OF THE HONEY-BEE. 89 

they issued forth from their hives led by their kings 
and fought in the air, strewing the ground with the 
dead and dying : 

" Hard hailstones lie not thicker on the plain, 
Nor shaken oaks such show'rs of acorns rain." 

It is quite certain he had never been bee-hunting. 
If he had we should have had a fifth Georgic. Yet 
he seems to have known that bees sometimes escaped 
to the woods : 

" Nor bees are lodged in hives alone, but found 
In chambers of their own beneath the ground : 
Their vaulted roofs are hung in pumices, 
And in the rotten trunks of hollow trees." 

Wild honey is as near like tame as wild bees are 
like their brothers in tlje hive. The only difference 
is that wild honey is flavored with your adventure, 
which makes it a little more delectable than the do- 
mestic article. 



NATURE AND THE POET& 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 

I HAVE said on a former occasion that " the true 
poet knows more about Nature than the naturalist, 
because he carries her open secrets in his heart. 
Eckermann could instruct Goethe in ornithology, but 
could not Goethe instruct Eckermann in the mean- 
ing and mystery of the bird ? " But the poets some- 
times rely too confidently upon their supposed intui- 
tive knowledge of nature and grow careless about 
the accuracy of the details of their pictures. I am 
not aware that this was ever the case with Goethe ; 
I think it was not, for as a rule the greater the poet, 
the more correct and truthful will be his specifica- 
tions. It is the lesser poets who trip most upon their 
facts. Thus a New England poet speaks of " pluck- 
ing the apple from the pine," .as if the pine-apple grew 
upon the pine-tree. A Western poet sings of the 
bluebird in a strain in which every feature and char- 
acteristic of the bird is lost ; not one trait of the bird 
is faithfully set down. When the robin and the swal- 
low come, he says, the bluebird hies him to some 
mossy old wood, where, amid the deep seclusion he 
pours out his song. 



94 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

In a poem by a well-known author in one of the 
popular journals, a humming-bird's nest is shown the 
reader, and it has blue eggs in it. A more cautious 
poet would have turned to Audubon or Wilson before 
venturing upon such a statement. But then it was 
necessary to have a word to rhyme with " view," 
and what could be easier than to make a white egg 
" blue " ? Again, one of our later poets has evidently 
confounded the humming-bird with that curious par- 
ody upon it, the hawk or sphynx moth, as in his 
poem upon the subject he has hit off exactly the 
habits of the moth, or, rather, his creature seems a 
cross between the moth and the bird, as it has the 
habits of the one and the plumage of the other. The 
time to see the humming-bird, he says, is after sunset 
in the summer gloaming ; then it steals forth and 
hovers over the flowers, etc. Now, the humming-bird 
is eminently a creature of the sun and of the broad 
open day, and I have never seen it after sundown, 
while the moth is rarely seen except at twilight. It 
is much smaller and less brilliant than the humming- 
bird ; but its flight and motions are so nearly the 
same that a poet with his eye in a fine frenzy rolling 
might easily mistake one for the other. It is but a 
small slip in such a poet as poor George Arnold, 
when he makes the sweet-scented honeysuckle bloom 
for the bee, for surely the name suggests the bee, 
though in fact she does not work upon it ; but what 
shall we say of the Kansas poet, who, in his published 
rolume, claims both the yew and the nightingale foi 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 95 

his native state ? Or of a Massachusetts poet, who 
finds the snow-drop and the early primrose bloom- 
ing along his native streams, with the orchis and the 
yellow violet, and makes the blackbird conspicuous 
among New England songsters ? Our ordinary yew 
is not a tree at all, but a low spreading evergreen 
shrub that one may step over, and as for the nightin- 
gale, if they have the mocking-bird in Kansas, they 
can very well do without him. We have several va- 
rieties of blackbirds, it is true ; but when an Amer- 
ican poet speaks in a general way of the blackbird 
piping or singing in a tree, as he would speak of a 
robin or a sparrow, the suggestion or reminiscence 
awakened is always that of the blackbird of English 
poetry. 

" In days when daisies deck the ground, 

And blackbirds whistle clear, 
With honest joy our hearts will bound 
To see the coming year " 

sings Burns. I suspect that the English reader of 
even some of Emerson's and Lowell's poems would 
infer that our blackbird was identical with the British 
species. I refer to these lines of Emerson : 

" Where arches green the livelong day 
Echo the blackbirds' roundelay;" 

and to these lines from Lowell's " Rosaline " : 

" A blackbird whistling overhead 
Thrilled through mv brain;" 

*nd again these from " The Fountain of Youth " : . 



96 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

'"T is a woodland enchanted ; 
By no sadder spirit 
Than blackbirds and thrushes 
That whistle to cheer it, 
All day in the brushes." 

The blackbird of the English poets is like om 
robin in everything except color. He is familiar 
hardy, abundant, thievish, and his habits, manners, 
and song recall our bird to the life. Our own na- 
tive blackbirds, the crow blackbird, the rusty grackle, 
the cow-bird, and the red-shouldered starling, are not 
songsters, even in the latitude allowable to poets; 
neither are they whistlers, unless we credit them with 
a " split-whistle," as Thoreau does. The two first 
named have a sort of musical cackle and gurgle in 
spring (as at times both our crow and jay have), 
which is very pleasing, and to which Emerson aptly 
" ef ers in these lines from " May-Day " : 

" The blackbirds make the maples ring 
With social cheer and jubilee " 

but it is not a song. The note of the starling in the 
trees and alders along the creeks and marshes is bet- 
ter calculated to arrest the attention of the casual 
observer ; but it is far from being a song or a whistle 
like that of the European blackbird, or our robin. 
Its most familiar call is like the word "bazique? 
* bazique" but it has a wild musical note which 
Emerson has embalmed in this line : 
" The red-wing flutes his oJca-he." 
Here Emerson discriminates ; there is no mistaking 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 97 

his blackbird this time for the European species, 
though it is true there is nothing fluty or flute-like 
in the red-wing's voice. The flute is mellow, while 
the " o-Jca-lee" of the starling is strong and shavply 
accented. The voice of the thrushes (and our robin 
and the European blackbird are thrushes) is flute- 
like. Hence the aptness of this line of Tennyson : 

" The mellow ouzel fluted in the elm," 

the blackbird being the ouzel, or ouzel-c(5ck, as 
Shakespeare calls him. 

In the line which precedes this, Tennyson has 
stamped the cuckoo : 

u To left and right, 
The cuckoo told his name to all the hills." 

The cuckoo is a bird that figures largely in English 
poetry, but he always has an equivocal look in Amer- 
ican verse, unless sharply discriminated. We have a 
cuckoo, but he is a great recluse, and I am sure the 
poets do not know when he comes or goes, while to 
make him sing familiarly like the British species, as 
I have known at least one of our poets to do, is to 
come very wide of the mark. Our bird is as solitary 
and joyless as the mos f veritable anchorite. He con- 
tributes nothing to the melody or gayety of the sea- 
son. He is indeed known in some sections as the 
" rain-crow " ; but I presume that not one person in 
ten of those who spend their lives in the country has 
ever seen or heard him. He is like the showy orchis, 
or the ladies'-slipper, or the shooting-star among 



98 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

plants, a stranger to all but the few, and when 
an American poet says cuckoo, he must say it with 
such specifications as to leave no doubt what cuckoo 
he means, as Lowell does, in his " Nightingale in the 
Study " : 

"And, hark, the cuckoo, weatherwise, 
Still hiding, farther onward wooes you." 

In like manner the primrose is an exotic in Amer- 
ican poetry, to say nothing of the snow-drop and the 
daisy. * Its prominence in English poetry can be 
understood when we remember that the plant is so 
abundant in England as to be almost a weed, and 
that it comes early and is very pretty. Cowslip and 
oxlip are familiar names of varieties of the same 
plant, and they bear so close a resemblance that it 
is hard to tell them apart. Hence Tennyson, in 
" The Talking Oak": 

" As cowslip unto oxlip is, 
So seems she to the boy." 

Our familiar primrose is the evening primrose, a 
rank, tall weed that blooms with the mullein in late 
summer. Its small, yellow, slightly fragrant blos- 
soms open only at night, but remain open during the 
next day. By cowslip, our poets and writers gener- 
ally mean the yellow marsh marigold, which belongs 
to a different family of plants, but which, as a spring 
token and a pretty flower, is a very good substitute 
for the cowslip. Our real cowslip, the shooting-star 
(Dodecatheon meadia), is very rare, and is one of the 
most beautiful of native flowers. I believe it is no f 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 99 

found north of Pennsylvania. I have found it in a 
single locality in the District of Columbia, and the 
day is memorable upon which I first saw its cluster 
of pink flowers, with their recurved petals cleaving 
the air. I do not know that it has ever been men- 
tioned in poetry. 

Another flower which I suspect our poets see 
largely through the medium of English literature 
and invest with borrowed charms, is the violet. The 
violet is a much more winsome and poetic flower in 
England than it is in this country, for the reason 
that it comes very early and is sweet-scented ; our 
common violet is not among the earliest flowers, and 
it is odorless. It affects sunny slopes, like the English 
flower ; yet Shakespeare never could have made the 
allusion to it which he makes to his own species in 
these lines : 

" That strain again ! it had a dying fall : 
Oh ! it came o'er my ear like the sweet south 
That breathes upon a bank of violets. 
Stealing and giving odor," 

9r lauded it as 

" Sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes, 
Or Cytherea's breath." 

Our best known sweet-scented violet is a small, 
white, lilac-veined species (not yellow, as Bryant has 
it in his poem), that is common in wet out-of-the-way 
places. Our common blue violet the only species 
that is found abundantly everywhere in the North 
Slooms in May, and makes bright many a grass} 



100 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

meadow slope and sunny nook. Yet, for all that, it 
does not awaken the emotion in one that the earlier 
and more delicate spring flowers do ; the hepatica, 
say, with its shy wood habits, its pure, infantile ex- 
pression, and at times its delicate perfume ; or the 
houstonia, " innocence," flecking or streaking the 
cold spring earth with a milky way of minute stars ; 
or the trailing arbutus, sweeter scented than the Eng- 
lish violet, and outvying in tints Cytherea's or any 
other blooming goddess's cheek. Yet these flowers 
have no classical associations, and are, consequently, 
far less often upon the lips of our poets than the 
violet. 

To return to birds, another dangerous one for the 
American poet is the lark, and our singers generally 
are very shy of him. The term has been applied 
very loosely in this country to both the meadow-lark 
and the bobolink, yet it is pretty generally under- 
stood now that we have no genuine skylark east of 
the Mississippi. Hence, I am curious to know what 
bird Bayard Taylor refers to, when he speaks in hir 
" Spring Pastoral " of 

" Larks responding aloft to the mellow flute of the bluebird." 

Our so-called meadow-lark is no lark at all, but 9 
starling, and the tit-lark and shore-lark breed and 
pass the summer far to the north, and are never 
heard in song in the United States. 

The poets are entitled to a pretty free range, but 
they must be accurate when they particularize. W 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 101 

expect them to see the fact through their imagination, 
but it must still remain a fact ; the medium must not 
distort it into a lie. When they name a flower or 
a tree or a bird, whatever halo of the ideal they 
throw around it, it must not be made to belie the 
botany or the natural history. I doubt if you can 
catch Shakespeare transgressing the law in this 
respect, except where he followed the. superstition, 
and the imperfect knowledge of his time, as in his 
treatment of the honey-bee. His allusions to nature 
are always incidental to his main purpose, but they 
reveal a careful and loving observer. For instance, 
how are fact and poetry wedded in this passage, 
put into the mouth of Banquo ! 

" This guest of summer, 
The temple-haunting martlet, does approve, 
By his loved rnansionry, that the heaven's breath 
Smells wooingly here; no jutty, frieze, 
Buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird 
Hath made his pendent bed and procreant cradle ; 
Where they most breed and haunt, I have observed, 
The air is delicate.'* 

Nature is of course universal, but in the sanw 
sense is she local and particular cuts every suit to 
fit the wearer, gives every land an earth and sky of 
its own, and a flora and fauna to match. The poets 
and their readers delight in local touches. We have 

o 

both the hare and the rabbit in America, but this 
line from Thomson's description of a summer morn 
l g> 
And from the bladed field th*5 fearful har* Mmps awkward," - 



102 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

or this from Beattie, 

" Through rustling corn the hare astonished sprang " 
would not apply with the same force in New Eng 
land, because our hare is never found in the fields 
but in dense, remote woods. In England both hares 
and rabbits abound to such an extent that in places 
the fields and meadows swarm with them, and the 
ground is undermined by their burrows, till they be- 
come a serious pest to the farmer, and are trapped in 
vast numbers. The same remark applies to this from 
Tennyson : 

" From the woods 
Came voices of the well-con tented doves." 

Doves and wood-pigeons are almost as abundant in 
England as hares and rabbits, and are also a seri- 
ous annoyance to the farmer, while in this country 
the dove and pigeon are much less marked and per- 
manent features in our rural scenery, less perma- 
nent, except in the case of the mourning dove, which 
is found here and there the season through ; and less 
marked, except when the hordes of the passenger- 
pigeon once in a decade or two invade the land, 
rarely tarrying longer than the bands of a foraging 
army. I hardly know what Trowbridge means by the 
" wood-pigeon " in his midsummer poem, for, strictly 
speaking, the wood-pigeon is a European bird, and a 
very common one in England. But let me say here, 
however, that Trowbridge ? as a rule, keeps very close 
to the natural history of his own country when he 
bas occasion to draw material from this source, and 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 103 

to American nature generally. You will find in his 
poems the pewee, the bluebird, the oriole, the robin, 
the grouse, the king-fisher, the chipmunk, the mink, 
the bobolink, the wood-thrush, etc., all in their proper 
places. There are few bird-poems that combine so 
much good poetry and. good natural history as his 
" Pewee." Here we have a glimpse of the cat- 
bird: 

" In the alders, dank with noon-day dews, 
The restless cat-bird darts and mews ; " 

here, of the cliff-swallow : 

"In the autumn, when the hollows 
All are filled with flying leaves 
And the colonies of swallows 

Quit the quaintly stuccoed eaves." 

Only the dates are not quite right. The swallows 
leave their nests in August, which is nearly two 
months before the leaves fall. The poet is also a 
little unfaithful to the lore of his boyhood when he 
says 

" The partridge beats his throbbing drum " 

in midsummer. As a rule, the partridge does not 
drum later than June, except fitfully during the In- 
dian summer, while April and May are his favorite 
months. And let me say here for the benefit of the 
toets who do not go to the woods, that the partridge 
does not always drum upon a log; he frequently 
drums upon a rock or a stone wall, if a suitable log 
he not hpndy, and no ear can detect the difference. 
Ris drum is really his own proud breas^ and beneath 



104 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

his small hollow wings gives forth the same low, mel- 
low thunder from a rock as from a log. Bryant haa 
recognized this fact in one of his poems. 

Our poets are quite apt to get ahead or behind the 
season with their flowers and birds. It is not often 
that we catch such a poet as. Emerson napping. Ho 
knows nature, and he knows the New England fields 
and woods as few poets do. One may study our flora 
and fauna in his pages. He puts in the moose and 
the " surly bear," and makes the latter rhyme with 
" wood-pecker " : 

" He saw beneath dim aisles, in odorous beds, 

** He heard, when in the grove, at intervals, 
With sudden roar the aged pine-tree falls, 
One crash, the death-hymn of the perfect tree, 
Declares the close of its green century." 

" They led me through the thicket damp, 

Through brake and fern, the beavers' camp." 

"He saw the partridge drum in the woods ; 
He heard the woodcock's evening hymn; 
He found the tawny thrush's broods; 
And the shy hawk did wait for him." 

His " Titmouse " is studied in our winter woods, and 
his " Humble-Bee " in our summer fields. He has 
seen farther into the pine-tree than any other poet 
his " May-Day " is full of our spring sounds and 
tokens; he knows the "punctual birds," anl th* 
'* herbs and simples of the wood " - - 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 105 

"Kue, cinque-foil, gill, vervain, and agrimony, 
Blue-vetch, and trillium, hawk- weed, sassafras, 
Milk-weeds and murky brakes, quaint pipes and sun-dew." 

Here is a characteristic touch : 

" A woodland walk, 

A quest of river-grapes, a mocking thrush, 
A wild rose, a rock-loving columbine, 
Salve my worst wounds." 

That " rock-loving columbine " is better than Bry- 
ant's " columbines, in purple dressed," as our flower 
is not purple, but yellow and scarlet. Yet Bryant 
set the example to the poets that have succeeded 
him, of closely studying Nature as she appears under 
our own skies. 

I yield to none in my admiration of the sweet- 
ness and simplicity of his poems of nature, and in 
general of their correctness of observation. They 
are tender and heartfelt, and they touch chords that 
no other poet since Wordsworth has touched with 
so firm a hand. Yet he was not always an infallible 
observer ; he sometimes tripped upon his facts, and 
at other times he deliberately moulded them, adding 
to, or cutting off, to suit the purposes of his verse. 
J will cite here two instances in which his natural 
history is at fault. In his poem on the bobolink he 
makes the parent birds feed their young with " seeds," 
whereas, in fact, the young are fed exclusively upon 
insects and worms. The bobolink is an insectivo* 
<*ous bird in the North, or until its brood has flown< 
ind a granivorous bird in the South. 



106 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

In his " Evening Revery " occur these lines : 

" The mother-bird hath broken for her brood 
Their prison shells, or shov r ed them from the nest, 
Plumed for their earliest flight." 

It is not a fact that the mother-bird aids her off- 
spring in escaping from the shell. The young oi 
all birds are armed with a small temporary horn or 
protuberance upon the upper mandible, and they are 
so placed in the shell that this point is in immediate 
contact with its inner surface; as soon as they are 
fully developed and begin to struggle to free them- 
selves, the horny growth "pips" the shell. Their 
efforts then continue till their prison walls are com- 
pletely sundered, and the bird is free. This process 
is rendered the more easy by the fact that toward 
the last the shell becomes very rotten ; the acids that 
are generated by the growing chick eat it and make 
it brittle, so that one can hardly touch a fully incu- 
bated bird's egg without breaking it. To help the 
young bird forth would insure its speedy death. It 
is not true, either, that the parent shoves its young 
from the nest when they are fully fledged, except, 
possibly, in the case of some of the swallows and of 
the eagle. The young of all our more common birds 
leave the nest of their own motion, stimulated, prob- 
ably, by the calls of the parents, and in some cases 
by the withholding of food for a longer period than 
usual. 

As an instance where Bryant warps the facts to 
uit his purpose, take his poems of the " Yellow Vi 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 107 



olet" and "The Fringed Gentian." Of this last 

flower he says : 

" Thou waitest late and com'st alone, 
When woods are bare and birds are flown, 
And frosts and shortening days portend 
The aged year is near his end." 

The fringed gentian belongs to September, and, when 
the severer frosts keep away, it runs over into Octo- 
ber. But it does not come alone and the woods are 
not bare. The closed gentian comes at the same 
time, and the blue and purple asters are , in all their 
glory. Golden-rod, turtle-head (Chelone), and other 
fall flowers also abound. When the woods are bare, 
which does not occur in New England till in or near 
November, the fringed gentian has long been dead. 
It is in fact killed by the first considerable frost. No, 
if one were to go botanizing and take Bryant's poem 
for a guide he would not bring home any fringed 
gentians with him. The only flower he would find 
would be the witch-hazel. Yet I never see this gen- 
tian without thinking of Bryant's poem, and feeling 
that he has brought it immensely nearer to us. 

Bryant's poem of the " Yellow Violet " has all his 
accustomed simplicity and pensiveness, but his love 
for the flower carries him a little beyond the facts ; 
he makes it sweet scented, 

44 Thy faint perfume 
Alone is in the virgin air: " 

and he makes it the first flower of spring. I have 
a ever been able to detect any perfume in the yel- 
cow species ( Viola rotundifolid). This honor be- 



108 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

longs alone to our two white violets, Viola blanda 
and Viola Oanadensis. 

Neither is it quite true that 

" Of all her train, the hands of Spring 
First plant thee in the watery mould." 

Now it is an interesting point, which really is our 
first spring flower. Which comes second or third is 
of less consequence, but which everywhere and in all 
seasons comes first ; and in such a case the poet must 
not place the honor where it does not belong. I have 
no hesitation in saying that throughout the Middle 
and New England States, the hepatica is the first 
spring flower. 1 It is some days ahead of all others. 
The yellow violet belongs only to the more northern 
sections, to high, cold, beechen woods, where the poet 
rightly places it, but in these localities if you go 
to the spring woods every day you will gather the 
hepatica first. I have also found the claytonia and 
the colt's-foot first. In a poem called " The Twenty- 
Seventh of March " Bryant places both the hepatica 
and the arbutus before it : 

" Within the woods 

Tufts of ground-laurel, creeping underneath 
The leaves of the last summer, send their sweets 
Upon the chilly air, and by the oak, 
The squirrel cups, a graceful company, 
Hide in their bells, a soft aerial blue " - - 

ground-laurel being a local name for trailing arbutus, 
called also May-flower, and squirrel-cups for hepatica* 
or liver-leaf. But the yellow violet may rightly di 
oute for the second place. 

1 Excepting, of course, the skunk-cabbage. 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 109 

In " The Song of the Sower " our poet covers up 
part of the truth with the grain. The point and 
moral of the song he puts in the statement, that the 
wheat sown in the fall lies in the ground till spring 
before it germinates ; when, in fact, it sprouts and 
grows and covers the ground with " emerald blades " 
in the fall : 

" Fling wide the generous grain ; we fling 
O'er the dark mould the green of spring. 
For thick the emerald blades shall grow, 
When first the March winds melt the snow, 
And to the sleeping flowers, below, 
The early bluebirds sing. 

Brethren, the sower's task is done. 

The seed is in its winter bed. 

Now let the dark-brown mould be spread, 

To hide it from the sun, 
And leave it to the kindly care 
Of the still earth and brooding air, 
As when the mother, from her breast, 
Lays the hushed babe apart to rest, 
And shades its eyes and waits to see 
How sweet its waking smile will be. 
The tempest now may smite, the sleet 
All night on the drowned furrow beat, 
And winds that, from the cloudy hold 
Of winter, breathe the bitter cold, 
Stiffen to stone the mellow mould, 

Yet safe shall lie the wheat ; 
Till, out of heaven's unmeasured blue, 

Shall walk agair the genial year, 
To wake with warmth and nurse with dew 

The germs we lar to slumber here." 

Of course the poet was not writing an agricultural 



110 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

essay, yet one does not like to feel that he was 
obliged to ignore or sacrifice any part of the truth to 
build up his verse. One likes to see him keep within 
the fact without being conscious of it or hampered 
by it, as he does in " The Planting of the Apple- 
tree," or in the "Lines to a Water-fowl." 

But there are glimpses of American scenery and 
climate in Bryant that are unmistakable, as in these 
lines from " Midsummer " : 

"Look forth upon the earth her thousand plants 
Are smitten ; even the dark, sun-loving maize 
Faints in the field beneath the torrid blaze ; 
The herd beside the shaded fountain pants ; 
For life is driven from all the landscape brown ; 
The bird has sought his tree, the snake his den, 
The trout floats dead in the hot stream, and men 
Drop by the sunstroke in the populous town." 

Here is a touch of our " heated term " when the dog- 
star is abroad and the weather runs mad. I regret 
the " trout floating dead in the hot stream," because, 
if such a thing ever has occurred it is entirely excep- 
tional. The trout in such weather seek the deep 
water and the spring holes, and hide beneath rocks 
dnd willow banks. The following lines would be 
impossible in an English poem : 

" The snow-bird twittered on the beechen bough, 
And 'neath the hemlock, whose thick branches bent 
Beneath its bright, cold burden, and kept dry 
A circle, on the earth, of withered leaves, 
The partridge found a shelter." 

Both Bryant and Longfellow put their spring blue* 
bird in the elm, which is a much better place for th 



NATURE AND THE POETS. Ill 

oriole the elm-loving oriole. The bluebird pre- 
fers a humbler perch. Lowell puts him upon a post 
in the fence, which is a characteristic attitude : 

" The bluebird, shifting his light load of song, 
From post to post along the cheerless fence." 

Emerson calls him "April's bird," and makes him 
" fly before from tree to tree," which is also good. 
But the bluebird is not strictly a songster in the 
sense in which the sparrow or the indigo-bird, or the 
English robin-red-breast, is; nor do Bryant's lines 
hit the mark : 

" The bluebird chants, from the elm's long branches, 
A hymn to welcome the budding year." 

Lowell again is nearer the truth when he speaks of 
his " whiff of song." All his notes are call-notes, 
and are addressed directly to his mate. The song- 
birds take up a position and lift up their voices and 
sing. It is a deliberate musical performance, as much 
BO as that of Nilsson or Patti. The bluebird, how- 
ever, never strikes an attitude and sings for the mere 
song's sake. But the poets are perhaps to be allowed 
this latitude, only their pages lose rather than gain by 
it. Nothing is so welcome in this field as characteris- 
tic touches, a word or a phrase that fits this case and 
no other. If the bluebird chants a hymn, what doea 
ihe wood-thrush do ? Yet the bluebird's note is more 
pleasing than most bird-songs ; if it could be repro* 
duced in color, it would be the hue of the purest sky 
Longfellow makes the swallow sing : 
" The darting- swallows soar and sing ; " 



112 NATUEE AND THE POETS. 

which would leave him no room to describe the lark, 
if the lark had been about. Bryant comes nearer the 
mark this time : 

" There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren, 
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky ; " 

no does Tennyson when he makes his swallow 
" Cheep and twitter twenty million loves ; " 

alsc Lowell again in this line : 

" The thin-winged swallow skating on the air." 

and Virgil : 

" Swallows twitter on the chimney tops." 

Longfellow is perhaps less close and exact in his 
dealings with nature than any of his compeers, al- 
though he has written some fine naturalistic poems, 
as his " Rain in Summer," and others. When his 
fancy is taken, he does not always stop to ask, Is this 
BO? Is this true? as when he applies the Spanish 
proverb, " There are no birds in last year's nests," 
to the nests beneath the eaves ; for these are just the 
last year's nests that do contain birds in May. The 
cliff-swallow and the barn-swallow always reoccupy 
their old nests, when they are found intact ; so do 
some other birds. Again, the. hawthorn, or white- 
thorn, field-fares, belong to English poetry more than 
to American. The ash in autumn is not deep crim- 
toned, but a purplish brown. " The ash her purple 
drops forgivingly," says Lowell in his " Indian-Sum- 
mer Reverie." Flax is not golden, lilacs are purpl<* 
or white and not flame-colored, and it is against the 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 113 

law to go trouting in November. The pelican is not 
a wader any more than a goose or a duck is, and the 
golden robin or oriole is not a bird of autumn. This 
Btanza from " The Skeleton in Armor " is a strik- 
ing one : 

" As with his wings aslant, 
Sails the fierce cormorant, 
Seeking some rocky haunt, 

With his prey laden, 
So toward the open main, 
Beating to sea again, 
Through the wild hurricane, 
Bore I the maiden." 

But unfortunately the cormorant never does anything 
of the kind ; it is not a bird of prey : it is web- 
footed, a rapid swimmer and diver, and lives upon 
fish, which it usually swallows as it catches them. 
Virgil is nearer to fact when he says : 

" When crying cormorants forsake the sea 
And, stretching to the covert, wing their way." 

But cormorant with Longfellow may stand for any 
of the large rapacious birds, as the eagle or the con- 
dor. True, and yet the picture is purely a fanciful 
one, as no bird of prey sails with his burden ; on the 
contrary he flaps heavily and laboriously, because he 
is always obliged to mount. The stress of the rhyme 
and metre are of course in this case very great, and it 
is they, doubtless, that drove the poet into this false 
picture of a bird of prey laden with his quarry. It 
's an ungracious task, however, to cross-question the 
gentle Muse of Longfellow in this manner. He is a 
8 



114 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

true poet if there ever was one, and the slips I point 
out are only like an obscure feather or two in the 
dove carelessly preened. The burnished plumage and 
the bright hues hide them unless we look sharply. 

Whittier gets closer to the bone of the New Eng- 
land nature. He comes from the farm, and his mem- 
ory is stored with boyhood's wild and curious lore* 
with 

"Knowledge never learned of schools, 

Of the wild bee's morning chase, 

Of the wild flower's time and place, 

Flight of fowl and habitude 

Of the tenants of the wood; 

How the tortoise bears his shell, 

How the woodchuck digs his cell 

And the ground-mole sinks his well; 

How the robin feeds her young; 

How the oriole's nest is hung; 

Where the whitest lilies blow, 

Where the freshest berries grow, 

Where the ground-nut trails its vine, 

Where the wood-grape's clusters shine; 

Of the black wasp's cunning way, 

Mason of his walls of clay, 

And the architectural plans 

Of gray hornet artisans ! " 

The poet is not as exact as usual when he applies 
the epithet " painted " to the autumn beeches, as the 
foliage of the beech is the least painty of all our 
trees ; nor when he speaks of 

"Wind flower and violet, amber and white," 

fts neither of the flowers named is amber colored 
From " A Dream of Summer " the reader might in 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 115 

fer that the fox shut up house in the winter like the 
musk-rat : 

*' The fox his hill-side cell forsakes, 

The musk-rat leaves his nook, 
The bluebird in the meadow brakes 
Is singing with the brook." 

The only one of these incidents that : s characteristic 
of a January thaw in the latitude of New England, 
is the appearance of the musk rat. The fox is never 
in his cell in winter, except he is driven there by the 
houd, or by soft or wet weather, and the bluebird 
does not sing in the brakes at any time of the year. 
A severe stress of weather will drive the foxes off 
the mountains, into the low, sheltered woods and 
fields, and a thaw will send them back again. In the 
winter the fox sleeps during the day upon a rock or 
stone wall, or upon a snow bank, where he can com- 
mand all the approaches, or else prowls stealthily 
through the woods. 

But there is seldom a false note in any of Whit- 
tier's descriptions of rural sights and sounds. What 
a characteristic touch is that in one of his "Mount- 
ain Pictures " : 

" The pasture bars that clattered as they fell." 

It is the only strictly native, original, and typical 
sound he reports on that occasion. The bleating of 
sheep, the barking of dogs, the lowing of cattle, the 
splash of the bucket in the well, " the pastoral Cur- 
few of the cow-bell," etc., are sounds we have heard 
Before in poetry, but that clatter of the pasture-bars 



116 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

is American ; one can almost see the waiting, ru- 
minating cows slowly stir at the signal, and start for 
home in anticipation of the summons. Every sum- 
mer day, as the sun is shading the hills, the clatter 
of those pasture-bars is heard throughout the length 
and breadth of the land. 

" Snow-Bound " is the most faithful picture of our 
Northern winter that has yet been put into poetry. 
What an exact description is this of the morning 
after the storm : 

** We looked upon a world unknown, 
On nothing we could call our own. 
Around the glistening wonder bent 
The blue walls of the firmament, 
No cloud above, no earth below, 
A universe of sky and snow." 

In his little poem on the May-flower, Mr. Sted- 
man catches and puts in a single line a feature of our 
landscape in spring that I have never before seen 
alluded to in poetry. I refer to the second line of 
this stanza : 

" Fresh blows the breeze through hemlock trees, 

The fields are edged with green below, 
And naught but youth, and hope, and love 
We know or care to know.'* 

It is characteristic of our Northern and New Eng- 
land fields that they are " edged with green " in 
spring long before the emerald tint has entirely over- 
epre%d them. Along the fences, especially along the 
Btorie walls, the grass starts early ; the land is fattei 
there from the deeper snows and from other causes 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 117 

.he fence absorbs the heat, and shelters the ground 
from the winds, and the sward quickly responds to 
the touch of the spring sun. 

Stedman's poem is worthy of his theme, and is the 
only one I recall by any of our well-known poets 
upon the much loved May-flower or arbutus. There 
is a little poem upon this subject by an unknown au- 
thor that also has the right flavor. I recall but one 
stanza : 

" Oft have I walked these woodland ways, 
Without the blest foreknowing, 
That underneath the withered leaves 
The fairest flowers were blowing/ 1 

Nature's strong and striking effects are best rendered 
by closest fidelity to her. Listen and look intently, 
and catch the exact effect as nearly as you can. It 
seems as if Lowell had done this more than most of 
his brother poets. In reading his poems, one wishes 
for a little more of the poetic unction (I refer, of 
course, to his serious poems ; his humorous ones are 
just what they should be), yet the student of nature 
will find many close-fitting phrases' and keen obser- 
vations in his pages, and lines that are exactly, and 
at the same time poetically, descriptive. He is the 
jnly writer I know of who has noticed the fact that 
the roots of trees do not look supple and muscular 
like their boughs, but have a stiffened, congealed 
ook, as of a liquid hardened. 

" Their roots, like molten-metal cooled in flowing, 
Stiffened in coiU and runnels down he bank." 



118 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

This is exactly the appearance the roots of most 
trees, when uncovered, present ; they flow out from 
the trunk like diminishing streams of liquid metal, 
taking the form of whatever they come in contact 
with, parting around a stone and uniting again be- 
yond it, and pushing their way along with many a 
pause and devious turn. One principal office of the 
roots of a tree is to gripe, to hold fast the earth ; 
hence they feel for and lay hold of every inequality 
of surface ; they will fit themselves to the top of a 
comparatively smooth rock, so as to adhere amaz- 
ingly, and flow into the seams and crevices like metal 
into a mould. 

Lowell is singularly true to the natural history of 
nis own county. In his " Indian-Summer Reverie " 
we catch a glimpse of the hen-hawk, silently sailing 
overhead 

" With watchful, measuring eye," 
the robin feeding on cedar berries, and 

"The squirrel, on the shingly shag-bark's bough. " 

I do not remember to have met the " shag-bark " in 
poetry before, or that gray lichen-covered stone wall 
which occurs farther along in the same poem, and 
which is so characteristic of the older farms of New 
York and New England. I hardly know what th 
poet means by 

:t The wide-ranked mowers wading to the knee," 

as the mowers do not wade in the grass they are cut 
tiug, though they might appear to do so when viewed 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 119 

Athwart the standing grass ; perhaps this is the ex- 
planation of the line. 

But this is just what the bobolink does, when the 
care of his young begins to weigh upon him : 

"Meanwhile that devil-may-care, the bobolink, 
Remembering duty, in mid-quaver stops 
Just ere he sweeps o'er rapture's tremulous brink, 
And 'twixt the windrows most demurely drops." 

1 dc not vouch for that dropping between the win- 
drows, as in my part of the country the bobolinks flee 
before the hay-makers, but that sudden stopping on 
the brink of rapture, as if thoughts of his helpless 
young had extinguished his joy, is characteristic. 

Another carefully studied description of Lowell's 
is this : 

". The robin sings, as of old from the limb ! 
The cat-bird croons in the lilac-bush ! 
Through the dim arbor, himself more dim, 
Silently hops the hermit thrush." 

Among trees Lowell has celebrated the oak, the 
pine, the birch ; and among flowers, the violet and 
the dandelion. The last, 1 think, is the most pleas- 
ing of. these poems : 

** Dear common flower, that growest beside the way, 
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold, 
First pledge of blithesome May." 

Tn3 dandelion is indeed, in our latitude, the pledge of 
May. It comes when the grass is short, and the 
fresh turf sets off its " ring of gold " with admirable 
eifect ; hence, we know the poet is a manth or more 



120 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

out of the season when, in " Al Fresco," he makes it 
bloom with the buttercup and the clover : 

" The dandelions and buttercups 
Gild all the lawn ; the drowsy be 
Stumbles among the clover-tops, 
And summer sweetens all but me." 

Of course the dandelion blooms occasionally 
throughout the whole summer, especially where the 
grass is kept short, but its proper season, when it 
" gilds all the lawn," is, in every part of the country, 
some weeks earlier than the tall buttercup (J%. acris) 
and the clover. These bloom in June in New Eng- 
land and New York, and are contemporaries of the 
daisy. In the meadows and lawns, the dandelion 
drops its flower and holds aloft its sphere of down, 
touching the green surface as with a light frost, long 
before the clover and the buttercup have formed 
their buds. In " Al Fresco " our poet is literally ia 
clover, he is reveling in the height of the season, the 
full tide of summer is sweeping around him, and ha 
has riches enough without robbing May of her dan- 
delions. Let him say, 
j * 

" The daisies and the buttercups 
Gild all the lawn." 

I smile as I note that the woodpecker proves a re 
fractory bird to Lowell, as well as to Emerson : 

Emerson rhymes it with bear, 
Lowell rhymes it with hear, 
One makes it woodpeckair, 
The other, woodpeckear. 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 121 

But its hammer is a musical one, and the poets do 
well to note it. An Illinois poet, I observe, ascribes 
the " rat- tat- tat " of the downy or hairy woodpecker, 
heard so often in early spring upon the resonant 
limbs, and again in the Indian summer, to the yellow- 
hammer, or high-hole. The high-hole is almost en- 
tirely a ground pecker, and his beak is seldom heard 
upon limb or tree, except when he is excavating a 
test. Our most musical drummer upon dry limbs 
among the woodpeckers is the yellow-bellied. His 
measured, deliberate tap, heard in the stillness of the 
primitive woods, produces an effect that no bird-song 
is capable of. 

Tennyson is said to have very poor eyes, but there 
seems to be no defect in the vision with which he 
sees Nature, while he often hits the nail on the head 
in a way that would indicate the surest sight. True, 
he makes the swallow hunt the bee, which, for aught 
I know, the swallow may do in England. Our purple 
martin has been accused of catching the honey-bee, 
but I doubt his guilt. But those of our swallows 
;hat correspond to the British species, the barn-swal- 
low, the cliff-swallow, and the bank-swallow subsist 
upon very small insects. But what a clear-cut picture 
is that in the same poem (" The Poet's Song ") : 

" The wild hawk stood, with the down on his beak, 
And stared, with his foot on the prey." 

It takes a sure eye, too, to see 

" The landscape winking thro' the heat" 



122 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

or to gather this image : 

" He has a solid base of temperament; 
But as the water-lily starts and slides 
Upon *the level in little puffs of wind, 
Though anchored to the bottom, such is he; *' 
or this : 

"Arms on which the standing muscle sloped^ 
As slopes a wild brook o'er a little stone, 
Running too vehemently to break upon it," 

and many other gems that abound in his poems. He 

does not cut and cover in a sin or] e line, so far as I 

o * 

have observed. Great caution and exact knowledge 
underlie his most rapid and daring flights. A lady told 
me that she was once walking with him in the fields 
when they came to a spring that bubbled up through 
shifting sands in a very pretty manner, and Tenny- 
son, in order to see exactly how the spring behaved, 
got down on his hands and knees and peered a long 
time into the water. The incident is worth repeating 
as showing how intently a great poet studies nature. 

Walt Whitman says he has been trying for years 
to find a word that would express or suggest that 
evening call of the robin. How absorbingly this poet 
must have studied the moonlight to hit upon this de- 
.-.'Criptive phrase : 

"The vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue;" 

how long have looked upon the carpenter at his bench 
to have made this poem : 

" The tongue of his fore-plane whistles its wild ascending lisp; '* 
$rr how lovingly listened to the nocturne of the mock 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 123 

jig-bird to have turned it into words in "A Word 
out of the Sea." Indeed, no poet has studied Ameri- 
can nature more closely than Whitman has or ia 
more cautious in his uses of it. How easy are his 
descriptions ! 

" Behold the day-break ! 

The little light fades the immense and diaphanous shadows ! " 

" The comet that came unannounced 

Out of the north, flaring in heaven." 

The fan-shaped explosion." 

li The slender and jagged threads of lightning, as sudden and fast 
amid the din they chased each other across the sky." 

** Where the heifers browse where geese nip their food with 
short jerks ; 

Where sundown shadows lengthen over the limitless and lonesome 
prairie ; 

Where herds of buffalo make a crawling spread of the square miles 
far and near ; 

Where the humming-bird shimmers where the neck of the long- 
lived swan is curving and winding; 

Where the laughing-gull scoots by the shore when she laughs her 
near human laugh; 

Where band-neck' d partridges roost in a ring on the ground with 
their heads out." 

Whitman is less local than the New England poets 
and faces more to the West. But he makes himself 
at home everywhere, and puts in characteristic scenes 
and incidents, generally compressed into a single line, 
from all trades and doings and occupations, North, 
East, South, West, and identifies himself with man in 
Cl straits and conditions on the continent. Like the 



124 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

old poets, he does not dwell upon nature, except oc- 
casionally through the vistas opened up by the great 
sciences, as astronomy and geology, but upon life and 
movement and personality, and puts in a shred of 
natural history here and there, the u twittering red- 
start," the spotted-hawk swooping by, the oscillating 
sea-gulls, the yellow-crowned heron, the razor-billed 
auk, the lone wood-duck, the migrating geese, the 
sharp-hoofed moose, the mocking-bird, " the thrush, 
the hermit," etc., to help locate and define his posi- 
tion. Everywhere in nature Whitman finds human 
relations, human responsions. In entire consistence 
with botany, geology, science, or what not, he endues 
his very seas and woods with passion, more than the 
old hamadryads or tritons. His fields, his rocks, his 
trees, are not dead material, but living companions. 
This is doubtless one reason why Addington Symonds, 
the young Hellenic scholar of England, finds him 
more thoroughly Greek than any other man of mod- 
ern times. 

Our natural history, and indeed all phases of life in 
this country, are rich in materials for the poet that 
have yet hardly been touched. Many of our most 
c amiliar birds, which are inseparably associated with 
one's walks and recreations in the open air, and with 
the changes of the seasons, are yet awaiting their 
->oet, as the high -hole, with his golden-shafted 
quills and loud continued spring call ; the meadow 
lark, with her crescent-marked breast and long 
Irawn, piercing, yet tender April and May summons 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 125 

forming, with that of the high-hole, one of the three 
or four most characteristic field sounds of our spring ; 
the happy gold-finch, circling round and round in 
midsummer with that peculiar undulating flight and 
calling per-chick j -o-pee, per-chiclc f -o-pee, at each open- 
ing and shutting of the wings, or later leading her 
plaintive brood among the thistle-heads by the road- 
side ; the little indigo-bird, facing the torrid sun of 
August and singing through all the livelong summer 
day ; the contented musical soliloquy of the vireo, 
like the whistle of a boy at his work, heard through 
all our woods from May to September : 

" Pretty green worm, where are you? 
Dusky-winged moth, how fare you, 
When wind and rain are in the tree? 
Cheeryo, cheerehly, chee, 
Shadow and sun one are to me. 
Mosquito and gnat, beware you, 
Saucy chipmunk, how dare you 
Climb to my nest in the maple-tree, 
And dig up the corn 
At noon and at morn ? 
Cheeryo, cheerebly, chee." 

Or the phcebe-bird, with her sweet April call and 
mossy nest under the bridge or woodshed, or under 
the shelving rocks ; or the brown thrasher mock- 
ing thrush calling half furtively, half archly from 
the tree-top, back in the bushy pastures : " Croquet, 
r r oquet, hit it, hit it, oome to me, come to me, tight 
a., tight it, you 're out, you 're out," with many musi- 
cal interludes ; or the cheewink, rustling the leaves 
Mid peering under the bushes at you : or the pretty 



126 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

little oven-bird, walking round and round you in the 
woods, or suddenly soaring above the tree-tops, and 
ottering its wild lyrical strain ; or, farther south, the 
whistling red-bird, with his crest and military bearing, 
these and many others should be full of sugges- 
tion and inspiration to our poets. It is only lately 
that the robin's song has been put into poetry. Noth- 
ing could be happier than this rendering of it by a 
nameless singer in " A Masque of Poets " : 

" When the willows gleam along the brooks, 
And the grass grows green in sunny nooks, 
In the sunshine and the rain 
I hear the robin in the lane 
Singing 'Cheerily 
Cheer up, cheer up ; 
Cheerily, cheerily, 
Cheer up.' 

'But the snow is still 

Along the walls and on the hill. 
The days are cold, the nights forlorn, 
For one is here and one is gone. 
* Tut, tut. Cheerily, 
Cheer up, cheer up; 
Cheerily, cheerily, 
Cheer up.' 

" When spring hopes seem to wane, 
I hear the joyful strain 
A song at night, a song at morn, 
A lesson deep to me is borne, 
Hearing, ' Cheerily, 
Cheer up, cheer up ; 
Cheerily, cheerily, 
Cheer up.' " 

The poetic interpretation of nature, which hju 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 127 

tome to be a convenient phrase, and about which the 
Oxford professor of poetry has written a book, is, of 
course, a myth, or is to be read the other way. It 
is the soul the poet interprets, not nature. There is 
nothing in nature but what the beholder supplies. 
Does the sculptor interpret the marble or his own 
ideal ? Is the music in the instrument, or in the 
soul of the performer ? Nature is a dead clod un 
til you have breathed upon it with your genius. You 
commune with your own soul, not with woods or wa- 
ters ; they furnish the conditions, and are what you 
make them. Did Shelley interpret the song oi the 
skylark, or Keats that of the nightingale ? They in- 
terpreted their own wild, yearning hearts. The trick 
of the poet is always to idealize nature to see it 
subjectively. You cannot find what the poets find 
in the woods until you take the poet's heart to the 
woods. He sees Nature through a colored glass, sees 
it truthfully, but with an indescribable charm added, 
the aureole of the spirit. A tree, a cloud, a bird, a 
sunset, have no hidden meaning that the art of the 
poet is to unlock for us. Every poet shall interpret 
them differently, and interpret them rightly, because 
the soul is infinite. Milton's nightingale is not Cole- 
ridge's ; Burns's daisy is not Wordsworth's ; Emer- 
son's humble-bee is not Lowell's ; nor does Turner 
see in nature what Tintoretto does, nor Veronese what 
Correggio does. Nature is all things to all men. 
" We carry within us," says Sir Thomas Browne, 
'* the wonders we find without." The same idea ii 



128 NATURE AND THE POETS. 

daintily expressed in these tripping verses of Bry 
ant's: 

44 Yet these sweet sounds of the early season 

And these fair sights of its early days, 
Are only sweet when we fondly listen, 
And only fair when we fondly gaze. 

" There is no glory in star or blossom, 
Till looked upon by a loring eye; 
There is no fragrance in April breezes, 
Till breathed with joy as they wander by ; " 

and in these lines of Lowell : 

" What we call Nature, all outside ourselves, 
Is but our own conceit of what we see, 
Our own reaction upon what we feel." 

" I find my own complexion everywhere." 
Before either, Coleridge had said : 

" We receive but what we give, 
And in our life alone doth Nature live ; 
Ours is the wedding-garment, ours the shroud ; " 

and Wordsworth had spoken of 

" The light that never was on sea or land, 
The consecration and the poet's dream." 

That light that never was on sea or land is what the 
poet gives us, and is what we mean by the poetic in- 
terpretation of nature. The Oxford professor strug- 
gles against this view. " It is not true," he says, 
* that nature is a blank, or an unintelligible scroll 
with no meaning of its own but that which we put 
into it from the light of our own transient feelings." 
Not a blank, certainly, to the scientist, but full of 



NATURE AND THE POETS. 129 

definite meanings and laws, and a storehouse of 
powers and economies ; but to the poet the meaning 
is what he pleases to make it, what it provokes in his 
own soul. To the man of science it is thus and so, 
and not otherwise ; but the poet touches and goes, 
and uses nature as a garment which he puts off and 
on. Hence, the scientific reading or interpretation of 
nature is the only real one. Says the Soothsayer to 
" Antony and Cleopatra " : 

" In Nature's infinite book of secresy a little do I read." 

This is science bowed and reverent, and speaking 
through a great poet. The poet himself does not so 
much read in Nature's book though he does this, 
too as write his own thoughts there ; Nature reads 
him, she is the page and he the type, and she takes 
the impression he gives. Of course the poet uses the 
truths of nature also, and he establishes his right to 
them by bringing them home to us with a new and 
peculiar force a quickening or kindling force. 
What science gives is melted in the fervent heat of 
the poet's passion, and comes back to us supple 
tnented by his quality and genius. He gives mort 
fchan he takes, always. 
I 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 

A NEW NOTE IN THE WOODS. 

THERE is always a new page to be turned in nat- 
nral history, if one is sufficiently on the alert. I did 
not know that the eagle celebrated his nuptials in the 
air till one early spring day I saw a pair of them fall 
from the sky with talons hooked together. They 
dropped a hundred feet or more, in a wild embrace, 
their great wings fanning the air, then separated and 
mounted aloft, tracing their great circles against the 
clouds. " Watch and wait " is the naturalist's sign. 
For years I have been trying to ascertain for a cer- 
tainty the author of that fine plaintive piping, to be 
heard more or less frequently, according to the 
weather, in our summer and autumn woods. It is a 
note that much resembles that of our small marsh 
frogs in spring < the hylodes ; it is not quite so .clear 
and assured, but otherwise much the same. Of a 
very warm October day I have heard the wood vocal 
with it ; it seemed to proceed from every stump and 
tree about one. Ordinarily, it is heard only at inter, 
vals throughout the woods. Approach never so cau- 
tiously the spot from which the sound proceeds, and 



134 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

it instantly ceases, and you may watch for an hour 
without again hearing it. Is it a frog, I said, the 
small tree-frog, the piper of the marshes repeating 
his spring note but little changed amid the trees ? 
Doubtless it is, yet I must see him in the very act. 
So I watched and waited, but to no purpose, till one 
day, while bee-hunting in the woods, I heard the 
sound proceed from beneath the leaves at my feet. 
Keeping entirely quiet, the little musician presently 
emerged, and lifting himself up on a small stick, his 
throat palpitated and the plaintive note again came 
forth. " The queerest frog ever I saw," said a youth 
who accompanied me, and whom I had enlisted to 
help solve the mystery. No ; it was no frog or toad 
at all, but the small red salamander, commonly called 
lizard. The color is not strictly red, but a dull or- 
ange, variegated with minute specks or spots. This 
was the mysterious piper, then, heard from May till 
November through all our woods, sometimes on trees, 
but usually on or near the ground. It makes more 
music in the woods in autumn than any bird. It is a 
pretty, inoffensive creature, walks as awkwardly as a 
baby, and may often be found beneath stones and old 
logs ;n the woods, where, buried in the mould, it 
passes the winter. (I suspect there is a species of lit- 
tle frog Pickering's hylodes that also pipes occa- 
sionally in the woods.) I have discovered, also, that 
we have a musicaJ spader. One sunny April day, 
tthile seated on the borders of *he woods, my atten- 
tion was attracted by a soft, uncertain purring sound 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 135 

that proceeded from the dry leaves at my feet. On 
investigating the matter, I found that it was made by 
a busy little spider. Several of them were traveling 
about over the leaves as if in quest of some lost cue 
or secret. Every moment or two they would pause, 
and by some invisible means make the low purring 
sound referred to. Prof. J. C. Allen says the com- 
mon turtle or land tortoise also has a note, a loud, 
shrill, piping sound. It may yet be discovered that 
there is no silent creature in nature. 



THE SAND HOENET. 

I TURNED another (to me) new page in natural 
history, when, during the past season, I made the 
acquaintance of the sand wasp or hornet. From 
boyhood I had known the black hornet, with his 
large paper nest, and the spiteful yellow-jacket, with 
his lesser domicile, and had cherished proper con- 
tempt for the various indolent wasps. But the sand 
hornet was a new bird, in fact, the harpy eagle among 
insects, and he made an impression. While walking 
along the road about midsummer, I noticed working 
in the tow-path, where the ground was rather inclined 
to be dry and sandy, a large yellow hornet-like insect. 
It made a hole the size of one's little finger in the 
hard, gravelly path beside the road-bed. When dis- 
urbed, it alighted on the dirt and sand in the middU 



136 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

of the road. I had noticed in my walks some small 
bullet-like holes in the field that had piqued my curi- 
osity, and I determined to keep an eye on these in- 
sects of the road-side. I explored their holes, and 
found them quite shallow, and no mystery at the bot- 
tom of them. One morning in the latter part of July, 
walking that way, I was quickly attracted by the sight 
of a row of little mounds of fine freshly dug earth rest- 
ing upon the grass beside the road, a foot or more be- 
neath the path. " What is this ? " I said. " Mice, or 
squirrels, or snakes," said my neighbor. But I con- 
nected it at once with the strange insect I had seen. 
Neither mice nor squirrels work like that, and snakes 
do not dig. Above each mound of earth was a hole 
the size of one's largest finger, leading into the bank. 
While speculating about the phenomenon, I saw one 
of the large yellow hornets I had observed, quickly 
enter one of the holes. That settled the query. 
While spade and hoe were being brought to dig him 
out, another hornet appeared, heavy-laden with some 
prey, and flew humming up and down and around the 
place where I was standing. I withdrew a little, 
when he quickly alighted upon one of the mounds of 
earth, and I saw him carrying into his den no less an 
insect than the cicada or harvest-fly. Then another 
came, and after coursing up and down a few times, 
disturbed by my presence, alighted upon a tree, with 
his quarry, to rest. The black hornet will capture a 
tfy, or a small butterfly, arid after creaking and dis- 
membering it, will take it to his nest ; but here waa 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 137 

khis hornet carrying an insect much larger than him- 
self, and flying with ease and swiftness. It was as ii 
a hawk should carry a hen, or an eagle a turkey. I 
at once proceeded to dig for one of the hornets, and 
after following his hole about three feet under the 
foot-path and to the edge of the road-bed, succeeded 
in capturing him, and recovering the cicada. The 
hornet weighed fifteen grains, and the cicada nine- 
teen ; but in bulk the cicada exceeded the hornet by 
more than half. In color, the wings and thorax, or 
waist, of the hornet, were a rich bronze ; the abdo- 
men was black, with three irregular yellow bands; 
the legs were large and powerful, especially the third, 
or hindmost pair, which were much larger than the 
others, and armed with many spurs and hooks. In 
digging its hole the hornet has been seen at work 
very early in the morning. It backed out with the 
loosened material like any other animal under the 
same circumstances, holding and scraping back the dirt 
with its legs. The preliminary prospecting upon the 
foot-path, which I had observed, seems to have been 
Ihe work of the males, as it was certainly of the 
smaller hornets, and the object was doubtless to ex- 
amine the ground, and ascertain if the place was 
suitable for nesting. By digging two or three inches 
through the hard, gravelly surface of the road, a fine 
?sandy loam was discovered, which seemed to suit ex 
actly, for in a few days the main shafts were aL 
Started in the greensward, evidently upon the strength 
f the favorable report which the surveyors had 



138 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

made. These were dug by the larger hornets or fe* 
males. There was but one inhabitant in each hole, 
and the holes were two to three feet apart. One that 
we examined had nine chambers or galleries at the end 
of it, in each of which were two locusts, or eighteen 
in all. The locusts of the locality had suffered great 
slaughter. Some of them in the hole or den had been 
eaten to a mere shell by the larvae of the hornet. 
Under the wing of each insect an egg is attached; 
the egg soon hatches, and the grub at once proceeds 
to devour the food its thoughtful parent has provided. 
As it grows it weaves itself a sort of shell or cocoon, 
into which, after a time, it undergoes its metamor- 
phosis, and comes out, I think, a perfect insect to- 
ward the end of summer. 

I understood now the meaning of that sudden cry 
of alarm I had so often heard proceed from the locust 
or cicada, followed by some object falling and rust- 
ling amid the leaves ; the poor insect was doubtless 
in the clutches of this arch enemy. A number of 
locusts usually passed the night on the under side of 
a large limb of a mulberry tree near by ; early one 
morning a hornet was seen to pounce suddenly upon 
one and drag it over on the top of the limb ; a strug- 
gle ensued, but the locust was soon quieted and car- 
ried off. It is said that the hornet does not sting the 
insect, for that would kill it, and it would not keep 
fresh for its young, but stupefies it, or chloroforms 
t, or does something of the sort, so that life remain! 
for some days. 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 139 

My friend Van, who watched the hornets in my 
absence, saw a fierce battle one day over the right of 
possession of one of the dens. An angry, humming 
Bound was heard to proceed from one of the holes ; 
gradually it approached the surface, until the hornets 
emerged locked in each other's embrace, and rolled 
down the little embankment, where the combat was 
continued. Finally, one released his hold and took 
up his position in the mouth of his den (of course I 
should say she and her, as these were the queen hor- 
nets), where she seemed to challenge her antagonist 
to come on. The other one manoeuvred about a 
while, but could not draw her enemy out of her 
stronghold ; then she clambered up the bank and be- 
gan to bite and tear off bits of grass and to loosen 
gravel-stones and earth, and roll them down into the 
mouth of the disputed passage. This caused the be- 
sieged hornet to withdraw farther into her hole, 
when the other came down and thrust in her head, 
but hesitated to enter. After more manoeuvring, 
the aggressor withdrew, and began to bore a hole 
about a foot from the one she had tried to possess 
herself of by force. 

Besides the cicada, the sand hornet captures grass- 
hoppers and other large insects. I have never met 
with it before the present summer (1879), but this 
year I have heard of its appearance at several point* 
tlong the Hudson. 



140 NOTES BY THE WAY. 



THE SOLITARY BEE. 

IF you " leave no stone unturned " in your walks 
through the fields, you may perchance discover the 
abode of one of our solitary bees. Indeed, I have 
often thought what a chapter of natural history might 
be written on " Life under a Stone," so many of our 
smaller creatures take refuge there, ants, crickets, 
spiders, wasps, bumble-bees, the solitary bee, mice, 
toads, snakes, newts, etc. What do these things do 
in a country where there are no stones ? A stone 
makes a good roof, a good shield ; it is water-proof 
and fire-proof, and, until the season becomes too rig- 
orous, frost-proof, too. The field-mouse wants no 
better place to nest than beneath a large, flat stone, 
and the bumble-bee is entirely satisfied if she can get 
possession of his old or abandoned quarters. I have 
even heard of a swarm of hive bees going under a 
stone that was elevated a little from the ground. 
After that, I did not marvel at Samson's bees going 
into the carcass or skeleton of the lion. 

In the woods one day (it was in November) I 
turned over a stone that had a very strange-looking 
creature under it, a species of salamander I had 
never before seen, the S. Fasciata. It was five or 
six inches long, and was black and white in alternate 
bands. It looked like a creature of the night, 
darkness dappled with moonlight, and so it proved. 
I wrapped it up in some leaves and took it home in 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 141 

my pocket. By day it would barely move, and could 
not be stimulated or frightened into any degree of 
activity ; but at night it was alert and wide awake. 
Of its habits I know little, but it is a pretty and 
harmless creature. Under another stone was still 
another species, the S. Subviolacea, larger, of a dark 
plum-color, with two rows of bright yellow spots 
down its back. It evinced more activity than its fel- 
low of the moon-bespattered garb. I have also found 
the little musical red newt under stones, and several 
Email, dark species. 

But to return to the solitary bee. When you go 
a-hunting of the honey-bee, and are in quest of a spec- 
imen among the asters or golden-rod in some remote 
field to start a line with, you shall see how much this 
little native bee resembles her cousin of the social 
hive. There appear to be several varieties, but the 
one I have in mind is just the size of the honey-bee, 
and of the same general form and color, and its man- 
ner among the flowers is nearly the same. On close 
inspection, its color proves to be lighter, while the 
under side of its abdomen is of a rich bronze. The 
body is also flatter and less tapering, and the curve 
inclines upward, rather than downward. You per- 
ceive it would be the easiest thing in the world for 
f he bee to sting an enemy perched upon its back. 
One variety, with a bright buff abdomen, is called 
< sweat-bee" by the laborers in the field, because it 
^lights upon their hands and bare arms when they 
*re sweaty, doubtless in quest of salt. It buildi 



142 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

its nest in little cavities in rails and posts. But the 
one with the bronze, or copper, bottom builds under 
a stone. I discovered its nest one day in this wise : 
I was lying upon the ground in a field, watching a 
line of honey-bees to the woods, when my attention 
was arrested by one of these native bees flying about 
me in a curious, inquiring way. When it returned 
the third time, I said, " That bee wants something of 
me," which proved to be the case, for I was lying 
upon the entrance to its nest. On my getting up, it 
alighted and crawled quickly home. I turned over 
the stone, which was less than a foot across, when 
the nest was partially exposed. It> consisted of four 
cells, built in succession in a little tunnel that had 
been excavated in the ground. The cells, which 
were about three quarters of an inch long and half as 
far through, were made of sections cut from the leaf 
of the maple cut with the mandibles of the bee, 
which work precisely like shears. I have seen the 
bee at work cutting out these pieces. She moves 
through the leaf like the hand of the tailor through a 
piece of cloth. When the pattern is detached she 
rolls it up, and, embracing it with her legs, flies home 
with it, often appearing to have a bundle dispropor- 
tionately large. Each cell is made up of a dozen or 
more pieces ; the larger ones, those that form its 
walls, like the walls of a paper bag, are oblong, and 
we turned down at one end, so as to form the bot- 
tom : not one thickness of leaf merely, but thre* 
or four thicknesses, each fragment of leaf lapping 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 143 

aver another. When the cell is completed it is filled 
about two thirds full of bee-bread the color of that 
in the comb in the hive, but not so dry, and having a 
sourish smell. Upon this the egg is laid, and upon 
this the young feed when hatched. Is the paper bag 
now tied up ? No, it is headed up ; circular bits of 
leaves are nicely fitted into it to the number of six or 
seven. They are cut without pattern or compass, 
and yet they are all alike, and all exactly fit. In- 
deed, the construction of this cell or receptacle shows 
great ingenuity and skill. The bee was, of course, 
unable to manage a single section of a leaf large 
enough, when rolled up to form it, and so was obliged 
to construct it of smaller pieces, such as she could 
carry, lapping them one over another. 

A few days later I saw a smaller species carrying 
fragments of a yellow autumn leaf under a stone 
in a corn-field. On examining the place about sun- 
down to see if the bee lodged there, I found her 
snugly ensconced in a little rude cell that adhered to 
the under side of the stone. There was no pollen in 
it, and I half suspected it was merely a berth in which 
to pass the night. 

These bees do not live even in pairs, but absolutely 
alone. They have large baskets on their legs in which 
to carry pollen, an article they are very industrious 
11 collecting. 

Why the larger species above described should 
bave waited till October to build its nest is a mystery 
o me. Perhaps this was the second brood of th 



144 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

season, or can it be that the young were not to hatch 
till the following spring ? 



THE WEATHER-WISE MUSKRAT. 

I AM more than half persuaded that the muskrat 
is a wise little animal, and that on the subject of the 
weather, especially, he possesses some secret that I 
should be glad to know. In the fall of 1878 I noticed 
that he built unusually high and massive nests. I 
noticed them in several different localities. In a shal- 
low, sluggish pond by the roadside, which I used to 
pass daily in my walk, two nests were in process of 
construction throughout the month of November. 
The builders worked only at night, and I could see 
each day that the work had visibly advanced. When 
there was a slight skim of ice over the pond, this was 
broken up about the nests, with trails through it in 
different directions where the material had been 
brought. The houses were placed a little to one 
side of the main channel, and were constructed en- 
tirely of a species of coarse wild grass that grew all 
about. So far as I could see, from first to last they 
were solid masses of grass, as if the interior cavity or 
nest was to be excavated afterward, as doubtless it 
was. As they emerged from the pond they gradually 
assumed the shape of a miniature mountain, very bold 
*nd steep on the south side, and running down a long 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 145 

gentle grade to the surface of the water on the north. 
One could see that the little architect hauled all his 
material up this easy slope, and thrust it out boldly 
around the other side. Every mouthful was distinctly 
defined. After they were two feet or more above the 
water, I expected each day to see that the finishing 
stroke had been given and the work brought to a 
close. But higher yet, said the builder. December 
drew near, the cold became threatening, and I was 
apprehensive that winter would suddenly shut down 
upon those unfinished nests. But the wise rats knew 
better than I did ; they had received private advices 
from headquarters, that I knew not of. Finally, 
about the 6th of December, the nests assumed com- 
pletion ; the northern incline was absorbed or carried 
up, and each structure became a strong massive cone, 
three or four feet high, the largest nest of the kind I 
had ever seen. Does it mean a severe winter? I 
inquired. An old farmer said it meant " high water," 
and he was right once, at least, for in a few days 
afterward we had the heaviest rain-fall known in 
this section for half a century. The creeks rose to 
ui almost unprecedented height. The sluggish pond 
became a seething, turbulent water-course ; gradually 
the angry element crept up the sides of these lake 
dwellings, till, when the rain ceased, about four 
o'clock, they showed above the flood no larger than 
a man's hat. During the night the channel shifted 
till the main current swept over them, and next day 
tot a vestige of the nests was to be seen ; they had 
10 



146 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

gone down-stream, as had many other dwellings of a 
less temporary character. The rats had built wisely, 
and would have been perfectly secure against any 
ordinary high water, but who can foresee a flood ? 
The oldest traditions of their race did not run back 
to the time of such a visitation. 

Nearly a week afterward another dwelling was 
begun, well away from the treacherous channel, but 
the architects did not work at it with much heart ; 
the material was very scarce, the ice hindered, and 
before the basement-story was fairly finished, winter 
had the pond under his lock and key. * 

In other localities I noticed that where the nests 
were placed on the banks of streams, they were made 
secure against the floods by being built amid a small 
clump of bushes. When the fall of 1879 came, the 
muskrats were very tardy about beginning their house, 
laying the corner-stone or the corner-sod about 
December 1st, and continuing the work slowly and 
indifferently. On the 15th of the month the nest 
was not yet finished. This, I said, indicates a mild 
winter ; and, sure enough, the season was one of the 
mildest known for many years. The rats had little 
use for their house. 

Again, in the fall of 1880, while the weather-wise 
were wagging their heads, some forecasting a mild, 
some a severe, winter, I watched with interest for a 
sign from my muskrats. About November 1st, a 
month earlier than the previous year, they began 
iheir nest, and worked at it with a will. They ap 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 147 

peared to have just got tidings of what was coming, 
If I had taken the hint so palpably given, my celery 
would not have been frozen up in the ground, and 
my apples caught in unprotected places. When the 
cold wave struck us, about November 20th, my four- 
legged " I-told-you-so's " had nearly completed their 
dwelling ; it lacked only the ridge-board, so to speak ; 
it needed a little " topping out," to give it a finished 
look. But this it never got. The winter had come 
to stay, and it waxed more and more severe, till the 
unprecedented cold of the last days of December must 
have astonished even the wise muskrats in their snug 
retreat. I approached their nest at this time, a white 
mound upon the white, deeply frozen surface of the 
pond, and wondered if there was any life in that ap- 
parent sepulchre. I thrust my walking-stick sharply 
into it, when there was a rustle and a splash into the 
water, as the occupant made his escape. What a 
damp basement that house has, I thought, and what 
a pity to rout a peaceful neighbor out of his bed in 
this weather, and into such a state of things as this ! 
But water does not wet the muskrat ; his fur is 
charmed, and not a drop penetrates it. 

Where the ground is favorable, the muskrats do 
not build these mound-like nests, but burrow into the 
bank a long distance, and establish their winter quar- 
ters there. 

Shall we not say, then, in view of the above facts, 
that this little creature is weather-wise ? The hitting 
of the mark twice might be mere good luck; but 



148 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

three bull's-eyes in succession is not a mere coinci- 
dence ; it is a proof of skill. The muskrat is not 
found in the Old World, which is a little singular, as 
other rats so abound there, and as those slow-going 
English streams especially, with their grassy banks., 
are so well suited to him. The water-rat of Europe is 
smaller, but of similar nature and habits. The musk 
rat does not hibernate like some rodents, but is pretty 
active all winter. In December I noticed in my walk 
where they had made excursions of a few yards to an 
orchard for frozen apples. One day, along a little 
stream, I saw a mink track amid those of the musk- 
rat ; following it up, I presently came to blood and 
other marks of strife upon the snow beside a stone 
wall. Looking in between the stones, I found the 
carcass of the luckless rat, with its head and neck 
eaten away. The mink had made a meal of him. 



CHEATING THE SQUIRRELS. 

FOR the largest and finest chestnuts I had last 
fall I was indebted to the gray squirrels. Walking 
through the early October woods one day, I came 
Upon a place where the ground was thickly strewn 
w th very large unopened chestnut burs. On exam- 
ination I found that every bur had been cut square 
off with about an inch of the stem adhering, and no* 
one had been left on the tree. It was not accident 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 149 

then, but design. Whose design ? The squirrels'. 
The fruit was the finest I had ever seen in the woods, 
and some wise squirrel had marked it for his own. 
The burs were ripe, and had just begun to divide, 
not " threefold," but fourfold, " to show the fruit 
within." The squirrel that had taken all this pains 
had evidently reasoned with himself thus : " Now, 
these are extremely fine chestnuts, and I want them ; 
if I wait till the burs open on the tree the crows and 
jays will be sure to carry off a great many of the 
nuts before they fall ; then, after the wind has rat- 
tled out what remain, there are the mice, the chip- 
munks, the red squirrels, the raccoons, the grouse, to 
say nothing of the boys and the pigs, to come in for 
their share ; so I will forestall events a little ; I will 
cut off the burs when they have matured, and a few 
days of this dry October weather will cause every 
one of them to open on the ground ; I shall be on 
hand in the nick of time to gather up my nuts." 
The squirrel, of course, had to take the chances of a 
prowler like myself coming along, but he had fairly 
stolen a march on his neighbors. As I proceeded to 
collect and open the burs, I was half prepared to 
hear an audible protest from the trees about, for I 
Constantly fancied myself watched by shy but jealous 
eyes. It is an interesting inquiry how the squirrel 
knew the burs would open if left to lie on the ground 
A few days. Perhaps he did not know, but thought 
;he experiment worth trying. 

The gray squirrel is peculiarly an American prod- 



150 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

act, and might serve very well as a national emblem. 
The Old World can beat us on rats and mice, but we 
are far ahead on squirrels, having five or six speciea 
to Europe's one. 



THE SKYLARK ON THE HUDSON. 

MY note-book of the past season is enriched with 
the unusual incident of an English skylark in full 
song above an Esopus meadow. [ was poking 
about a marshy place in a low field one morning in 
early May, when through the maze of bird-voices: 
laughter of robins, call of meadow-larks, song of bob- 
olinks, ditty of sparrows, whistle of orioles, twitter of 
swallows, etc., with which the air was filled, my ear 
suddenly caught an unfamiliar strain. I paused to 
listen : can it be possible, I thought, that I hear a 
lark, or am I dreaming. The song came from the 
air, above a wide, low meadow many hundred yards 
away. Withdrawing a few paces to a more elevated 
position, I bent my eye and ear eagerly in that direc- 
tion. Yes, that unstinted, jubilant, skyward, multi- 
tudinous song can be none other than the lark's ! 
Any of our native songsters would have ceased while 
I was listening. Presently I was fortunate enough to 
catch sight of the bird. He had reached his climax 
n the sky and was hanging with quivering wings 
beneath a small white cloud, against which his fore 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 151 

was clearly revealed. I had seen and heard the lark 
fn England, else I should still have been in doubt 
about the identity of this singer. While I was climb- 
ing a fence I was obliged to take my eye from the 
bird, and when I looked again the song had ceased 
and the lark had gone. I was soon jn the meadow 
aj)ove which I had heard him, and the first bird I 
flushed was the lark. 

How strange he looked to my eye (I use the 
masculine gender because it was a male bird, but an 
Irishman laboring in the field, to whom I related my 
discovery, spoke touchingly of the bird as " she," 
and I notice that the old poets do the same), his 
long, sharp wings and something in his manner of 
flight that suggested a shore bird. I followed him 
about the meadow and got several snatches of song 
out of him, but not again the soaring, skyward flight 
and copious musical shower. By appearing to pass 
by I several times got within a few yards of him ; as 
I drew near he would squat in the stubble, and /hen 
suddenly start up, and, when fairly launched, sing 
briefly till he alighted again fifteen or twenty rods 
away. I came twice the next day and twice the next, 
and each time found the lark in the meadow or heard 
\iis song from the air or the sky. What was espe- 
cially interesting was that the lark had " singled out 
with affection " one of our native bi; ds, and the one 
that most resembled its kind, namel} the vesper-spar- 
row, or grass-finch. To this bird I saw him paying 
bis addresses with the greatest assiduity. He would 



152 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

follow it about and hover above it, and by manj 
gentle indirections seek to approach it. But the 
sparrow was shy, and evidently did not know what tc 
make of her distinguished foreign lover. It would 
sometimes take refuge in a bush, when the lark, not 
being a percher, would alight upon the ground be- 
neath it. This sparrow looks enough like the lark to 
be a near relation. Its color is precisely the same, 
and it has the distinguishing mark of the two lateral 
white quills in its tail. It has the same habit of 
skulking in the stubble or the grass as you approach ; 
it is exclusively a field-bird, and certain of its notes 
might have been copied from the lark's song. In size 
it is about a third smaller, and this is the most marked 
difference between them. With the nobler bipeds, 
this would not have been any obstacle to the union, 
and in this case the lark was evidently quite ready to 
ignore the difference, but the sparrow persisted in 
saving him nay. It was doubtless this obstinacy on 
her part that drove the lark away, for, on the fifth 
day, I could not find him and have never seen nor 
heard him since. I hope he found a mate some- 
where, but it is quite improbable. The bird had, 
most likely, escaped from a cage, or, may be, it was 
a survivor of a number liberated some years ago on 
Long Island. There is no reason why the lark should 
not thrive in th s country as well as in Europe, and, 
if a few hundred were liberated in any of our fields 
in Apnl or May, I have little doubt they would soon 
become established. And what an acquisition it 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 153 

be ! As a songster, the lark is deserving of all 
the praise that has been bestowed upon him. He 
would not add so much to the harmony or melody of 
our bird-choir, as he would add to its blithesomeness, 
joyousness, and power. His voice is the jocund and 
inspiring voice of a spring morning. It is like a 
ceaseless and hilarious clapping of hands. I was much 
interested in an account a friend gave me of the first 
skylark he heard while abroad. He had been so 
full of the sights and wonders of the Old World that 
he had quite forgotten the larks, when one day, as he 
was walking somewhere near the sea, a brown bird 
started up in front of him and mounting upward be- 
gan to sing. It drew his attention, and as the bird 
went skyward, pouring out his rapid and jubilant 
notes, like bees from a hive in s warming-time, the 
truth suddenly flashed upon the observer. 

" Good heavens ! " he exclaimed, " that is a sky- 
lark ; there is no mistaking that bird." 

It is this unique and unmistakable character of the 
lark's song, and its fountain-like sparkle and copious- 
ness, that are the main sources of its charm. 



NOCTURNAL INSECTS. 

How the nocturnal insects, the tree-crickets and 
katydids, fail as the heat fails ! They are musicians 
that play fast or slow, strong or feeble, just as the 



154 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

heat of the season waxes or wanes ; and they play as 
long as life lasts ; when their music ceases they arc 
dead. The katydids begin in August, and cry with 
great vigor and spirit " Katy-did," " Katy-did," or 
" Katy-did n't." Toward the last of September they 
have taken in sail a good deal, and cry simply, 
" Katy," " Katy.," with frequent pauses and restiug- 
gpells. In October they languidly gasp or rasp, 
" Kate," Kate," " Kate," and before the end of 
the month they become entirely inaudible, though I 
suspect that if one's ear was sharp enough he might 
still hear a dying whisper, " Kate," " Kate." Those 
cousins of Katy, the little green purring tree-crick- 
ets, fail in the same way and at the same time. 
When their chorus is fullest, the warm autumn night 
fairly throbs with the soft lulling undertone. I no- 
tice that the sound is in waves or has a kind of 
rhythmic beat. What a gentle, unobtrusive back 
ground it forms for the sharp, reedy notes of the 
katydids ! As the season advances, their life ebbs 
and ebbs : you hear one here and one there, but the 
air is no longer filled with that regular pulse-beat 
of sound. One by one the musicians cease, till, per 
haps on some mild night late in October, you hear 
} ast hear and that is all the last feeble note ol 
the last of these little harpers. 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 155 



LOVE AND WAR AMONG THE BIRDS. 

IN the spring movements of the fishes up the 
stream, toward their spawning beds, the females are 
the pioneers, appearing some days in advance of the 
males. With the birds the reverse is the case, the 
males coming a week or ten days before the females. 
The female fish is usually the larger and stronger, 
and perhaps better able to take the lead ; among 
most reptiles the same fact holds, and throughout the 
insect world there is to my knowledge no exception 
to the rule. Among the birds the only exception I 
am aware of is in the case of the birds of prey. 
Here the female is the larger and stronger. If you 
see an exceptionally large and powerful eagle, rest 
assured the sex is feminine. But higher in the scale 
the male comes to the front and leads in size and 
strength. 

But the first familiar spring birds are cocks ; hence 
the songs and tilts and rivalries. Hence also the fact 
that they are slightly in excess of the other sex, to 
make up for this greater exposure ; apparently no 
courting is done in the South, and no matches are 
pre-arranged. The males leave irregularly without 
,iny hint, I suspect, to the females as to when and 
where they will meet them. In the case of the pas- 
senger pigeon, however, the two sexes travel to- 
gether, as they do among the migrating water-fowls. 

With the song-birds, love-making begins as soon a 



156 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

the hens are here. So far as I have observed, th 
robin and the bluebird win their mates by gentle and 
fond approaches ; but certain of the' sparrows, nota- 
bly the little social sparrow or " chippie," appear to 
carry the case by storm. The same proceeding may 
be observed among the English sparrows, now fairly 
established on our soil. Two or three males beset a 
female and a regular scuffle ensues. The poor bird 
is pulled and jostled and cajoled amid what appears 
to be the greatest mirth and hilarity of her auda- 
cious suitors. Her plumage is plucked and ruffled, 
the rivals roll over each other and over her, she ex- 
tricates herself as best she can, and seems to say or 
scream " no," " no," to every one of them with great 
emphasis. What finally determines her choice would 
be hard to say. Our own sparrows are far less 
noisy and obstreperous, but the same little comedy in 
a milder form is often enacted among them. When 
two males have a tilt they rise several feet in the 
air, beak to beak, and seek to deal each other blows 
as they mount. I have seen two male chewinks fac- 
ing each other and wrathfully impelled upward in 
the same manner, while the female that was the 
boon of contention between them regarded them un- 
concernedly from the near bushes. 

The bobolink is also a precipitate and impetuous 
tt ooer. It is a trial of speed, as if the female were 
to say, " Catch me and I am yours," and she scur 
ries away with all her might and main, often wit! 
three or four dusky knights in hot pursuit. WheB 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 157 

she takes to cover in the grass there is generally a 
squabble " down among the tickle-tops," or under 
the buttercups, and " Wintersable " or " Conquedel " 
is the winner. 

In marked contrast to this violent love-making are 
the social and festive reunions of the goldfinches 
about mating time. All the birds of a neighborhood 
gather in a tree-top, and the trial apparently becomes 
one of voice and song. The contest is a most friendly 
and happy one ; all is harmony and gayety. The fe- 
males chirrup and twitter and utter their confiding 
"paUeyf "paisley" while the more gayly dressed 
males squeak and warble in the most delightful strain. 
The matches are apparently all made and published 
during these gatherings; everybody is iu a happy 
frame of mind ; there is no jealousy, and no rivalry 
but to see who shall be gayest. 

It often happens among the birds that the male 
has a rival after the nuptials have been celebrated 
and the work of housekeeping fairly begun. Every 
season a pair of phoebe-birds have built their nest on 
an elbow in the spouting beneath the eaves of my 
house. The past spring a belated male made des 
perate efforts to supplant the lawful mate and gain 
possession of the unfinished nest, There was a battle 
fought about the premises every hour in the day for 
sit least a week. The antagonists would frequently 
grapple and fall to the ground and keep their hold 
like two dogs. On one surh occasion I came neai 
Covering them with my hat. I believe the intruder 



158 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

mis finally worsted and withdrew from the place. 
One noticeable feature of the affair was the apparent 
utter indifference of the female, who went on with 
her nest-building as if all was peace and harmony. 
There can be little doubt that she would have ap- 
plauded and accepted the other bird had he finally 
been the victor. 

One of the most graceful of warriors is the robin. 
I know few prettier sights than two males challeng- 
ing and curveting about each other upon the grass in 
early spring. Their attentions to each other are sc 
courteous and restrained. In alternate curves and 
graceful sallies, they pursue and circumvent each 
other. First one hops a few feet, then the other, 
each one standing erect in true military style while 
his fellow passes him and describes the segment of 
an ellipse about him, both uttering the while a fine 
complacent warble in a high but suppressed key. 
Are they lovers or enemies ? the beholder wonders, 
until they make a spring and are beak to beak in the 
twinkling of an eye, and perhaps mount a few feet 
into the air, but rarely actually delivering blows upon 
each other. Every thrust is parried, every move- 
ment met. They follow each other with dignified 
composure about the fields or lawn, into trees and 
upon the ground, with plumage slightly spread, 
breasts glowing, their lisping, shrill war-song just 
audible. It forms on the whole the most civil and 
high-bred tilt to be witnessed during the season. 

When the cock-robin makes love he is the sami 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 159 

considerate, deferential, but insinuating, galla 't. The 
warble he makes use of on that occasion is the same, 
BO far as my ear can tell, as the one he pipes when 
fading his rival. 



FOX AND HOUND. 

I STOOD on a high hill or ridge one autumn day 
and saw a hound run a fox through the fields far 
beneath me. What odors that fox must have shaken 
out of himself, I thought, to be traced thus easily, 
and how great their specific gravity not to have been 
blown away like smoke by the breeze ! The fox ran 
a long distance down the hill, keeping within a few 
feet of a stone wall ; then turned a right angle and 
led off for the mountain, across a plowed field and a 
succession of pasture lands. In about fifteen minutes 
the hound came in full blast with her nose in the air, 
and never once did she put it to the ground while in 
my sight. When she came to the stone wall she took 
the other side from that taken by the fox, and kept 
about the same distance from it, being thus separated 
several yards from his track, with the fence between 
her and it. At the point where the fox turned 
.iharply to the left, the hound overshot a few yards, 
then wheeled, and feeling the air a moment with her 
nose, took up the scent again and was off on his trail 
as unerringly as Fate. It seemed as if the fox must 
have sowed himself broadcast as he went along, and 



160 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

that h? , seen t was so rank and heavy that it settled 
in the hollows and clung tenaciously to the bushes 
and crevices in the fence. I thought I ought to have 
caught a remnant of it as I passed that way some 
minutes later, but I did not. But I suppose it was 
not that the light-footed fox so impressed himself 
upon the ground he ran over, but that the sense of 
the hound was so keen. To her sensitive nose these 
tracks steamed like hot cakes, and they would not 
have cooled off so as to be undistinguishable for sev- 
eral hours. For the time being she had but one 
sense : her whole soul was concentrated in her nose. 

It is amusing when the hunter starts out of a win- 
ter morning to see his hound probe the old tracks to 
determine how recent they are. He sinks his nose 
down deep in the snow so as to exclude the air from 
above, then draws a long full breath, giving some- 
times an audible snort. If there remains the least 
effluvium of the fox the hound will detect it. If it 
be very slight it only sets his tail wagging ; if it be 
strong it unloosens his tongue. 

Such things remind one of the waste, the friction 
that is going on all about us, even when the wheels 
of life run the most smoothly. A fox cannot trip 
along the top of a stone wall so lightly but that he 
will leave enough of himself to betray his course to 
Jie hound for hours afterward. When the boys play 
" hare and hounds " the hare scatters bits of paper to 
give a clew to the pursuers, but he scatters himself 
much more freely if only our sight and scent wert 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 161 

sharp enough to detect the fragments. Even the fish 
leave a trail in the water, and it is said the otter will 
pursue them by it. The birds make a track in the 
air, only their enemies hunt by sight rather than by 
scent. The fox baffles the hound most upon a hard 
crust of frozen snow ; the scent will not hold to the 
smooth, bead-like granules. 

Judged by the eye alone, the fox is the lightest 
and most buoyant creature that runs. His soft 
wrapping of fur conceals the muscular play and 
effort that is so obvious in the hound that pursues 
him, and he comes bounding along precisely as if 
blown by a gentle wind. His massive tail is carried 
as if it floated upon the air by its own lightness. 

The hound is not remarkable for his fleetness, but 
how he will hang ! often running late into the 
night and sometimes till morning, from ridge to 
ridge, from peak to peak ; now on the mountain, now 
crossing the valley, now playing about a large slope 
of uplying pasture fields. At times the fox has a 
pretty well-defined orbit, and the hunter knows 
where to intercept him. Again he leads off like a 
comet, quite beyond the system of hills and ridges 
upon which he was started, and his return is entirely 
a matter of conjecture, but if the day be not more 
than half spent, the chances are that the fox will be 
back before night, though the sportsman s patience 
seldom holds out that long. 

The hound is a most interesting dog. How solemn 
and long-visaged he is how peaceful and well-dis- 
11 



162 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

posed ! He is the Quaker among dogs. All the 
viciousness and currishness seem to have been weeded 
out of him ; he seldom quarrels, or fights, or plays, 
like other dogs. Two strange hounds, meeting for 
Jie first time, behave as civilly toward each other as 
two men. I know a hound that has an ancient, 
wrinkled, human, far-away look that reminds one of 
the bust of Homer among the Elgin marbles. He 
looks like the mountains toward which his heart 
yearns so much. 

The hound is a great puzzle to the farm dog ; the 
latter, attracted by his baying, comes barking and 
snarling up through the fields bent on picking a 
quarrel ; he intercepts the hound, snubs and insult? 
and annoys him in every way possible, but the hound 
heeds him not ; if the dog attacks him he gets away as 
best he can, and goes on with the trail; the cur bris- 
tles and barks and struts about for a while, then goes 
back to the house, evidently thinking the hound a 
lunatic, which he is for the time being a mono- 
maniac, the slave and victim of one idea. I saw the 
master of a hound one day arrest him in full course, 
to give one of the hunters time to get to a certain 
runway ; the dog cried and struggled to free himself 
und would listen neither to threats nor caresses. 
Knowing he must be hungry, I offered him my 
lunch, but he would not touch it. I put it in his 
mouth, but he threw it contemptuously from him 
We coaxed and petted and reassured him, but he 
was under a spell ; he was bereft of all thought 01 
desire but the one passion to pursue that trail. 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 163 



THE TREE-TOAD. 

WE can boast a greater assortment of toads and 
frogs in this country than can any other land. What 
a chorus goes up from our ponds and marshes in 
spring ! The like of it cannot be heard anywhere 
else under the sun. In Europe it would certain!} 
have made an impression upon the literature. An 
attentive ear will detect first one variety, then an- 
other, each occupying the stage from three or four 
days to a week. The latter part of April, when the 
little peeping frogs hylodes are in full chorus, 
one comes upon places in his drives or walks late in 
the day, where the air fairly palpitates with sound ; 
from every little marshy hollow and spring run there 
rises an impenetrable maze or cloud of shrill musical 
voices. After the peepers, the next frog to appear 
is the clucking frog, a rather small, dark-brown frog, 
with a harsh, clucking note. Their chorus is heard 
for a few days only, while their spawn is being de- 
posited. In less than a week they disappear, and 1 
never see or hear them again till the next April. 
As the weather gets warmer, the toads take to the 
water, and set up that long-drawn musical tr-r-r-r-r-r-r- 
ing note. The voice of the bull-frog, who calls, ac- 
cording 10 the boys, "jug o' rum," "jug o'rum," "pull 
the plug," " pull the plug," is not heard much before 
June. The peepers, the clucking frog, and the bull- 
frog, are the only ones that call in chorus. The 



164 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

most interesting and the most shy and withdrawn of 
all our frogs and toads is the tree-toad, the creat- 
ure that, from the old apple or cherry-tree, or red 
cedar, announces the approach of rain, and baffles 
your every effort to see or discover him. It has not 
(as some people imagine) exactly the power of the 
chameleon to render itself invisible by assuming the 
color of the object it perches upon, but it sits very 
close and still, and its mottled back, of different shades 
of ashen gray, blends it perfectly with the bark of 
nearly every tree. The only change in its color I 
have ever noticed, is that it is lighter on a light-col- 
ored tree, like the beech or soft maple, and darker 
on the apple, or cedar, or pine. Then it is usually 
hidden in some cavity or hollow of the tree, when 
its voice appears to come from the outside. 

Most of my observations upon the habits of this 
creature run counter to the authorities I have been 
able to consult on the subject. 

In the first place, the tree-toad is nocturnal in its 
habits, like the common toad. By day it remains 
motionless and concealed, by night it is as alert and 
active as an owl, feeding and moving about from 
tree to tree. I have never known one to change its 
position by day, and never knew one to fail to do so 
by night. Last summer one was discovered sitting 
against a window upon a climbing rose-bush. The 
house had not been occupied for some days, and when 
the curtain was drawn, the toad was discovered and 
flosely observed. His light gray color harmonized 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 165 

perfectly with the unpainted wood-work of the house. 
During the day he never moved a muscle, but next 
morning he was gone. A friend of mine caught one, 
and placed it under a tumbler on his table at night, 
eaving the edge of the glass raised about the eighth 
of an inch to admit the air. During the night he 
was awakened by a strange sound in his room. Pat, 
pat, pat, went some object, now here, now there, 
among the furniture, or upon the walls and doors. 
On investigating the matter, he found that by some 
means his tree-toad had escaped from under the glass, 
and was leaping in a very lively manner about the 
room, producing the sound he had heard when it 
alighted upon the door, or wall, or other perpendicu- 
lar surface. 

The home of the tree-toad, I am convinced, is usu- 
ally a hollow limb or other cavity in the tree ; here 
he makes his headquarters, and passes most of the 
day. For two years a pair of them frequented an 
old apple-tree near my house, occasionally sitting at 
the mouth of a cavity that led into a large branch, 
but usually their voices were heard from within the 
cavity itself. On one occasion, while walking in the 
woods in early May, I heard the voice of a tree-toad 
but a few yards from me. Cautiously following up 
the sound, I decided, after some delay, that it pro- 
ceeded from the trunk of a small soft maple; the 
tree was hollow, the entrance tc the interior being a 
few feet from the ground. I could not discover the 
oad, but was so convinced that it was concealed ID 



166 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

the tree, that I stopped up the hole, determined to re- 
turn with an ax, when I had time, and cut the trunk 
open. A week elapsed before I again went to the 
woods, when, on cutting into the cavity of the tree, I 
found a pair of tree-toads, male and female, and a 
large, shelless snail. Whether the presence of the 
snail was accidental, or whether these creatures asso- 
ciated together for some purpose, I do not know. 
The male toad was easily distinguished from the fe- 
male by its large head, and more thin, slender, and 
angular body. The female was much the more beau- 
tiful, both in form and color. The cavity, which was 
long and irregular, was evidently their home ; it had 
been nicely cleaned out, and was a snug, safe apart- 
ment. 

The finding of the two sexes together under such 
circumstances and at that time of the year, suggests 
the inquiry whether they do not breed away from 
the water, as others of our toads are known at times 
to do, and thus skip the tadpole state. I have sev- 
eral times seen the ground, after a June shower, 
swarming with minute toads, out to wet their jackets. 
Some of them were no larger than crickets. They 
were a long distance from the water, and had evi- 
dently been hatched on the land, and had never been 
poll i wigs. Whether the tree-toad breeds in trees o 
on the land, yet remains to be determined. 

Another fact in the natural history of this creafc 
are, not set down in the books, is that they pass the 
winter in a torpid state in the ground, or in stumpi 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 167 

and hollow trees, instead of in the mud of ponds and 
marshes, like true frogs, as we have been taught. 
The pair in the old apple-tree above referred to, I 
heard on a warm, moist day late in November, and 
again early in April. On the latter occasion, I 
reached my hand down into the cavity of the tree 
and took out one of the toads. It was the first T 
had heard, and I am convinced it had passed the 
winter in the moist, mud-like mass of rotten wood 
that partially filled the cavity. It had a fresh, deli- 
cate tint, as if it had not before seen the light that 
spring. The president of a Western college writes 
in u Science News," that two of his students found 
one in the winter in an old stump which they demol- 
ished ; and a person whose veracity I have no reason 
to doubt sends me a specimen that he dug out of the 
ground in December while hunting for Indian relics. 
The place was on the top of a hill, under a pine-tree. 
The ground was frozen on the surface, and the toad 
was, of course, torpid. 

During the present season, I obtained additional 
proof of the fact that the tree-toad hibernates on dry 
land. The 12th of November was a warm, spring- 
like day ; wind southwest, with slight rain in the 
afternoon, just the day to bring things out of their 
winter retreats. As I was about to enter my door at 
lusk, my eye fell upon what proved to be the large 
tree-toad in question, sitting on some low stone-work 
At the foot of a terrace a few feet from the house. I 
paused to observe his movements, Presently ha 



168 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

started on his travels across the yard toward the lawn 
in front. He leaped about three feet at a time, \uth 
long pauses between each leap. For fear of losing 
him as it grew darker, I captured him, and kept him 
under the coal sieve till morning. He was very act- 
ive at night trying to escape. In the morning, I 
amused myself with him for some time in the kitchen. 
I found he could adhere to a window-pane, but could 
not ascend it; gradually his hold yielded, till he 
sprang off on the casing. I observed that in sitting 
upon the floor or upon the ground, he avoided bring- 
ing his toes in contact with the surface, as if they 
were too tender or delicate for such coarse uses, but 
sat upon the hind part of his feet. Said toes had a 
very bungling, awkward appearance at such times ; 
they looked like hands, encased in gray, woolen 
gloves much too large for them. Their round, flat- 
tened ends, especially when not in use, have a com- 
ically helpless look. 

After a while I let my prisoner escape into the 
open air. The weather had grown much colder, and 
there was a hint of coming frost. The toad took the 
hint at once, and after hopping a few yards from the 
door to the edge of a grassy bank, began to prepare 
for winter. It was a curious proceeding. He went 
into the ground backward, elbowing himself through 
the turf with the sharp joints of his hind legs, and 
going down in a spiral manner. His progress way 
*ery slow ; at night I could still see him by lifting 
lie grass ; and as the weather changed again to warns 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 169 

with southerly winds before morning, he stopped 
digging entirely. The next day I took him out, and 
put him into a bottomless tub sunk into the ground 
and filled with soft earth, leaves, and leaf mould, 
where he passed the winter safely, and came out fresh 
and bright in the spring. 

The little hylodes or peeping frogs lead a sort 01 
arboreal life, too, a part of the season, but they are 
quite different from the true tree-toads, the Hyla ver- 
gicolor, above described. They appear to leave the 
marshes in May, and to take to the woods or bushes. 
I have never seen them on trees, but upon low shrubs. 
They do not seem to be climbers, but perchers. I 
caught one in May, in some low bushes a few rods 
from the swamp. It perched upon the small twigs 
like a bird, and would leap about among them, sure 
of its hold every time. I was first attracted by its 
piping. I brought it borne, and it piped for one twi- 
light in a bush in my yard and then was gone. I do 
not think they pipe much after leaving the water. I 
have found them early in April upon the ground in 
the woods, and again late in the fall. 

In November, 1879, the warm, moist weather 
brought them out in numbers. They were hopping 
about everywhere, upon the fallen leaves. Within a 
Email space I captured six. Some of them were the 
hue of the tan-colored leaves, probably Pickering's 
hylodes, and some were darker, according to the local- 
ity. Of course they do not go to the marshes to 
winter, else they would not wait so late in the season 



170 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

I examined the ponds and marshes, and found bull 
frogs buried in the mud, but no peepers. 



THE SPRING BIRDS. 

WE never know the precise time the birds leave 
us in the fall ; they do not go suddenly ; their de- 
parture is like that of an army of occupation in no 
hurry to be off ; they keep going and going, and we 
hardly know when the last straggler is gone. Not 
so their return in the spring ; then it is like an army 
of invasion, and we know the very day when the first 
scouts appear. It is a memorable event. Indeed, 
it is always a surprise to me, and one of the com- 
pensations of our abrupt and changeable climate, this 
suddenness with which the birds come in spring, in 
fact, with which Spring itself comes, alighting, may 
be, to tarry only a day or two, but real and genuine, 
for all that. When March arrives, we do not know 
what a day may bring forth. It is like turning over 
a leaf, a new chapter of startling incidents lying jus L 
on the other side. A few days ago, winter had 
not perceptibly relaxed his hold ; then suddenly he 
began to soften a little, and a warm haze to creep 
np from the south, but not a solitary bird, save the 
winter residents, was to be seen or heard. Next day 
the sun seemed to have drawn immensely nearer ; hi* 
yearns were full of power ; and we said, " Behold 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 171 

the first spring morning ! And, as if to make the 
prophecy complete, there is the note of a bluebird, 
and it is not yet nine o'clock." Then others, and 
still others, were heard. How did they know it was 
going to be a suitable day for them to put in an ap- 
pearance ? It seemed as if they must have been 
waiting somewhere close by for the first warm day, 
like actors behind the scenes, ; the moment the cur- 
tain was lifted, they were ready and rushed upon the 
stage. The third warm day, and behold, all the prin- 
cipal performers come rushing in. Song-sparrows, 
cow-blackbirds, grackles, the meadow-lark, cedar-birds, 
the phcebe-bird,' and hark ! what bird laughter was 
that ? the robins, hurrah ! the robins ! Not two or 
three, but a score or two of them ; they are following 
the river valley north, and they stop in the trees from 
time to time, and give vent to their gladness. It is 
like a summer picnic of school children suddenly let 
loose in a wood ; they sing, shout, whistle, squeal, 
call, etc., in the most blithesome strains. The warm 
wave has brought the birds upon its crest ; or some 
barrier has given way, the levee of winter has broken, 
and spring comes like an inundation. No doubt, the 
snow and the frost will stop the crevasse again, but 
only for a brief season. 

Between the 10th and the 15th of March, in the 
Middle and Eastern States, we are pretty sure to have 
one or more of these spring days. Bright days, clear 
Says, may have been plenty all winte^ ; but the air 
was a desert, the sky transparent : ce ; now the sky 



172 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

is full of radiant warmth, and the air of a half articu- 
late murmur and awakening. How still the morning 
is ! It is at such times that we discover what music 
there is in the souls of the little slate-colored snow- 
birds. How they squeal, and chatter, and chirp, and 
trill, always in scattered troops of fifty or a hundred, 
filling the air with a fine sibilant chorus ! That joy- 
ous and childlike " chew," " chew," " chew," is very 
expressive. Through this medley of finer songs and 
calls, there is shot, from time to time, the clear, strong 
note of the meadow-lark. It comes from some field 
or tree farther away, and cleaves the air like an ar- 
row. The reason why the birds always appear first 
in the morning, and not in the afternoon, is that in 
migrating they travel by night, and stop, and feed 
and disport themselves by day. They come by the 
owl train, and are here before we are up in the 
morning. 



A LONE QUEEN. 

ONCE, while walking in the woods, I saw quite 
large nest in the top of a pine-tree. On climbing up 
to it, I found that it had originally been a crow's 
nest. Then a red squirrel had appropriated it ; he 
had filled up the cavity with the fine inner bark of 
the red cedar, and made himself a dome-shaped nest, 
^pon the crow's foundation of coarse twigs. It ii 
probable that the flying squirrel, or the white-footed 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 173 

mouse, had been the next tenants, for the finish of 
the interior suggested their dainty taste. But when 
I found it, its sole occupant was a bumble-bee the 
mother or queen-bee, just planting her colony. She 
buzzed very loud and complainingly, and stuck up 
her legs in protest against my rude inquisitiveness, 
but refused to vacate the premises. She had only 
one sack or cell constructed, in which she had depos- 
ited her first egg, and beside that a large loaf of 
bread, probably to feed the young brood with, as 
they should be hatched. It looked like Boston 
brown bread, but I examined it, and found it to be 
a mass of dark-brown pollen, quite soft and pasty. 
In fact, it was unleavened bread, and had not been 
got at the baker's. A few weeks later, if no accident 
befell her, she had a good working colony of a dozen 
or more bees. 

This was not an unusual incident. Our bumble- 
bee, so far as I have observed, invariably appropri- 
ates a mouse-nest for the site of its colony, never 
excavating a place in the ground, nor conveying ma- 
terials fora nest, to be lined with wax, like the Eu- 
ropean species. Many other of our wild creatures 
take up with the leavings of their betters or strong- 
ers. Neither the skunk nor the rabbit digs his own 
hole, but takes up with that of a woodchuck, or else 
hunts out a natural den among the rocks. In Eng- 
land the rabbit burrows in the ground to such an ex- 
tent that in places the earth is honey-combed by 
hem, and the walker steps through the surface into 



174 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

their galleries. Our white-footed mouse has been 
known to take up his abode in a hornet's nest, fur- 
nishing the interior to suit his taste. A few of our 
birds also avail themselves of the work of others, as 
the titmouse, the brown creeper, the bluebird, and 
the house wren. But in every case they refurnish 
the tenement: the wren carries feathers into the cav- 
ity excavated by the woodpeckers, the bluebird car 
ries in fine straws, and the chickadee lays down a 
fine wool mat upon the floors. When the high-hole 
occupies the same cavity another year, he deepens 
and enlarges it ; the phoebe-bird in taking up her old 
nest puts in a new lining ; so does the robin ; but 
cases of reoccupancy of an old nest by the last named 
birds are rare. 



A BOLD LEAPER. 

ONE reason, doubtless, why squirrels are so bold 
and reckless in leaping through the trees is, that if 
they miss their hold and fall they sustain no injury. 
Every species of tree-squirrel seems to be capable of 
a sort of rudimentary flying, at least of making 
itself into a parachute, so as to ease or break a fall 
or a leap from a great height. The so-called flying- 
squirrel does this the most perfectly. It opens its 
furry vestments, leaps into the air, and sails down 
the steep incline from the top of one tree to the foot 
)f the next as lightly as a bird. But other squirreli 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 175 

know the same trick, only their coat-skirts are not 
BO broad. One day my dog treed a red squirrel, in a 
tall hickory that stood in a meadow on the side of a 
steep hill. To see what the squirrel would do when 
closely pressed, I climbed the tree. As I drew near 
he took refuge in the topmost branch, and then, as I 
came on, he boldly leaped into the air, spread himself 
out upon it, and, with a quick, tremulous motion oi 
his tail and legs, descended quite slowly and landed 
upon the ground thirty feet below me, apparently 
none the worse for the leap, for he ran with great 
speed and escaped the dog in another tree. 

A recent American traveler in Mexico gives a still 
more striking instance of this power of squirrels par- 
tially to neutralize the force of gravity when leaping 
or falling through the air. Some boys had caught 
a Mexican black squirrel, nearly as large as a cat. 
It had escaped from them once, and, when pursued, 
had taken a leap of sixty feet, from the top of a pine- 
tree down upon the roof of a house, without injury. 
This feat had led the grandmother of one of the 
boys to declare that the squirrel was bewitched, and 
the boys proposed to put the matter to further test 
by throwing the squirrel down a precipice six hun- 
dred feet high. Our traveler interfered, to see that 
the squirrel had fair play. The prisoner was con- 
veyed in a pillow-slip to the edge of the cliff, and 
the slip opened, so that he might have his choice, 
whether to remain a captive or to take the leap. He 
tooked down the awful abj'ss, and then back and 



176 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

sidewise, his eyes glistening, his form crouching 
Seeing no escape in any other direction, " he took a 
flying leap into space, and fluttered rather than fell 
into the abyss below. His legs began to work like 
those of a swimming poodle-dog, but quicker and 
quicker, while his tail, slightly elevated, spread out 
like a feather fan. A rabbit of the same weight 
would have made the trip in about twelve seconds ; 
the squirrel protracted it for more than half a min- 
ute/' and " landed on a ledge of limestone, where 
we could see him plainly squat on his hind legs and 
smooth his ruffled fur, after which he made for the 
creek with a flourish of his tail, took a good drink, 
and scampered away into the willow thicket." 

The story at first blush seems incredible, but I 
have no doubt our red squirrel would have made the 
leap safely ; then why not the great black squirrel, 
since its parachute would be proportionately large ? 

The tails of the squirrels are broad and long and 
flat, not short and small like those of gophers, chip- 
munks, woodchucks, and other ground rodents, and 
when they leap or fall through the air the tail is 
arched and rapidly vibrates. A squirrel's tail, there- 
fore, is something more than ornament, something 
nore than a flag ; it not only aids him in flying, but 
it serves as a cloak, which he wraps about him when 
he sleeps. Thus, some animals put their tails to 
various uses, while others seem to have no use for 
them whatever. What use for a tail has a wood- 
chuck, or a weasel, or a mouse? Has not the mouse 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 177 

yet learned that it could get in its hole sooner if it 
had no tail ? The mole and the meadow mouse 
have very short tails. Rats, no doubt, put their 
tails to various uses. The rabbit has no use for 
a tail it would be in its way ; while its manner 
of sleeping is such that it does not need a tail to tuck 
itself up with, as do the 'coon and the fox. The dog 
talks with his tail ; the tail of the 'possum is pre- 
hensile; the porcupine uses his tail in climbing and 
for defense ; the beaver as a tool or trowel ; while 
the tail of the skunk serves as a screen behind which 
it masks its terrible battery. 



THE WOODCHUCK. 

WRITERS upon rural England and her familiar 
natural history make no mention of the marmot or 
woodchuck. In Europe this animal seems to be con- 
fined to the high mountainous districts, as on our 
Pacific slope, burrowing near the snow line. It is 
more social or gregarious than the American spe- 
cies, living in large families like our prairie dog. In 
the Middle and Eastern States our woodchuck takes 
the place, in some respects, of the English rabbit, 
burrowing in every hill-side and under every stone 
wall and jutting ledge and large bowlder, from whence 
it makes raids upon the grass and clover and some- 
times upon the garden vegetables. It is quite soli 
12 



178 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

tary in its habits, seldom more than one inhabiting 
the same den, unless it be a mother and her young 
It is not now so much a wood chuck as & field chuck. 
Occasionally, however, one seems to prefer the woods, 
and is not seduced by the sunny slopes and the suc- 
culent grass, but feeds, as did his fathers before him, 
upon roots and twigs, the bark of young trees, and 
upon various wood plants. 

One summer day, as I was swimming across a 
broad, deep pool in the creek in a secluded place in 
the woods, I saw one of these sylvan chucks amid the 
rocks but a few feet from the edge of the water 
where I proposed to touch. He saw my approach, 
but doubtless took me for some water-fowl, or for 
some cousin of his of the musk-rat tribe ; for he went 
on with his feeding, and regarded me not till I paused 
within -ten feet of him and lifted myself up. Then 
he did not know me, having, perhaps, never seen 
Adam in his simplicity, but he twisted his nose 
around to catch my scent ; and the moment he had 
clone so he sprang like a jumping-jack and rushed 
into his den with the utmost precipitation. 

The woodchuck is the true serf among our animals 
he belongs to the soil, and savors of it. He is of the 
earth, earthy. There is generally a decided odor 
about his dens and lurking places, but it is not at all 
disagreeable in the clover-scented air, and his shrill 
whistle, as he takes to his hole or defies the farm dog 
from the interior of the stone wall, is a pleasant sum- 
mer sound. In form and movement the woodchuck 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 179 

t not captivating. His body is heavy and flabby. 
Indeed, such a flaccid, fluid, pouchy carcass, I have 
never before seen. It has absolutely no muscular 
tension or rigidity, but is as baggy and shaky as a 
skin filled with water. Let the rifleman shoot one 
while it lies basking on a sideling rock, and its body 
slumps off, and rolls and spills down the hill, as if it 
were a mass of bowels only. The legs of the wood- 
chuck are short and stout, and made for digging 
rather than running. The latter operation he per- 
forms by short leaps, his belly scarcely clearing the 
ground. For a short distance he can make very good 
time, but he seldom trusts himself far from his hole, 
and, when surprised in that predicament, makes little 
effort to escape, but, grating his teeth, looks the dan- 
ger squarely in the face. 

I knew a farmer in New York who had a very 
large bob-tailed churn-dog by the name of Cuff. The 
farmer kept a large dairy and made a great deal of 
butter, and it was the business of Cuff to spend 
nearly the half of each summer day treading the end- 
less round of the churning-machine. During the re- 

o o 

mainder of the da^he had plenty of time to sleep, 
and rest, and sit on his hips and survey the landscape. 
One day, sitting thus, he discovered a woodchuck 
about forty rods from the house, on a steep side-hill, 
feeding about near his hole, which was beneath a 
large rock. The old dog, forgetting his stiffness, and 
"emembering the fun he had had with woodchucks in 
his earlier days, started off at his highest speed 



180 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

vainly hop! rig to catch this one before he could get to 
his hole. But the woodchuck, seeing the dog come 
laboring up the hill, sprang to the mouth of his den, 
and, when his pursuer was only a few rods off, whis- 
tled tauntingly and went in. This occurred several 
times, the old dog marching up the hill, and then 
marching down again, having had his labor for his 
pains. I suspect that he revolved the subject in his 
mind while he revolved the great wheel of the churn- 
ing-machine, and that some turn or other brought 
him a happy thought, for next time he showed him- 
self a strategist. Instead of giving chase to the wood- 
chuck, when first discovered, he crouched down to the 
ground, and, resting his head on his paws, watched 
him. The woodchuck kept working away from his 
hole, lured by the tender clover, but, not unmindful 
of his safety, lifted himself up on his haunches every 
few moments and surveyed the approaches. Pres 
ently, after the woodchuck had let himself down from 
one of these attitudes of observation, and resumed his 
feeding, Cuff started swiftly but stealthily up the hill, 
precisely in the attitude of a cat when she is stalking 
a bird. When the woodchuck |j)se up again Cuff 
was perfectly motionless and half hid by the grass. 
When he again resumed his clover, Cuff sped up the 
hill as before, this time crossing a fence, but in a 
low place, and so nimbly that he was not discovered. 
Again the woodchuck was on the outlook, again Cuff 
was motionless and hugging the ground. As the dog 
bears his victim he is partially hidden by a swell ir 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 181 

fche earth, but still the woodchuck from his outlook 
reports " all right," when Cuff, having not twice as 
far to run as the 'chuck, throws all stealthiness aside 
and rushes directly for the hole. At that moment 
the woodchuck discovers his danger, and, seeing that 
it is a race for life, leaps as I never saw marmot leap 
before. But he is two seconds too late, his retreat is 
cut off, and the powerful jaws of the old dog close 
upon him. 

The next season Cuff tried the same tactics again 
with like success, but, when the third woodchuck had 
taken up his abode at the fatal hole, the old churner's 
wits and strength had begun to fail him, and he was 
baffled in each attempt to capture the animal. 

The woodchuck always burrows on a side-hill 
This enables him to guard against being drowned 
out, by making the termination of the hole higher 
than the entrance. He digs in slantingly for about 
two or three feet, then makes a sharp upward tun) 
and keeps nearly parallel with the surface of the 
ground for a distance of eight or ten feet farther, ac- 
cording to the grade. Here he makes his nest and 
passes the winter, holing up in October or November 
and coming out again in April.- This is a long sleep, 
and is rendered possible only by the amount of fat 
with which the system has become stored during the 
summer. The fire of life still burns, but very faintly 
tnd slowly, as with the draughts all closed and the 
\shes heaped up. Respiration is continued, out at 
'onger intervals, and all the vital processes are nearly 



182 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

at a stand-still. Dig one out during hibernation 
(Audubon did so), and you find it a mere inanimate 
ball, that suffers itself to be moved and rolled about 
without showing signs of awakening. But bring it 
in by the fire, and it presently unrolls and opens its 
eyes, and crawls feebly about, and if left to itself will 
Beek some dark hole or corner, roll itself up again, 
and resume its former condition. 



A GOOD . SEASON FOR THE BIRDS. 

THE season of 1880 seems to have been excep- 
tionally favorable to the birds. The warm early 
spring, the absence of April snows and of long, cold 
rains in May and June, indeed, the exceptional 
heat and dryness of these months, and the freedom 
from violent storms and tempests throughout the 
summer, all worked together for the good of the 
birds. Their nests were not broken up or torn from 
the trees, nor their young chilled and destroyed by 
the. wet and the cold. The drenching, protracted 
ains that make the farmer's seed rot or lie dormant 
in the ground in May or June, and the summer 
tempests that uproot the trees or cause them to lash 
and bruise their foliage, always bring disaster to the 
birds. As a result of our immunity from these 
things the past season, the small birds in the fai 
were perhaps never more abundant. Indeed, I iievet 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 183 

remember to have seen so many of certain kinds 
notably the social and the bush sparrows. The latter 
literally swarmed in the fields and vineyards, and as 
it happened that for the first time a large number of 
grapes were destroyed by birds, the little sparrow, in 
some localities, was accused of being the depredator. 
But he is innocent. He never touches fruit of any 
kind, but lives upon seeds and insects. What at- 
tracted this sparrow to the vineyards in such num- 
bers was mainly the covert they afforded from small 
hawks, and probably also the seeds of various weeds 
that had been allowed to ripen there. The grape- 
destroyer was a bird of another color, namely, the 
Baltimore oriole. One fruit-grower on the Hudson 
told me he lost at least a ton of grapes by the birds, 
and in the western part of New York and in Ohio 
and in Canada, I hear the vineyards suffered se- 
verely from the depredations of the oriole. The 
oriole has a sharp, dagger-like bill, and he seems 
to be learning rapidly how easily he can puncture 
iruit with it. He has come to be about the worst 
cherry bird we have. He takes the worm first, and 
then he takes the cherry the worm was after, or 
p ather he bleeds it ; as with the grapes, he carries 
none away with him, but wounds them all. He is 
welcome to all the fruit he can eat, but why should 
he murder every cherry on the tree, or every grape 
n the cluster ? He is as wanton as a sheep-killing 
og, that will not stop with enough, but slaughters 
tvery ewe in the flock. The oriole is peculiarly ex 



184 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

erapt from the dangers that beset most of our birds 
its nest is all but impervious to the rain, and the squir 
rel or the jay or the crow cannot rob it without great 
difficulty. It is a pocket which it would not be 
prudent for either jay or squirrel to attempt to ex- 
plore, when the owner, with his dagger-like beak, 
was about; and the crow cannot alight upon the 
slender, swaying branch from which it is usually 
pendent. Hence the orioles are doubtless greatly on 
the increase. 

There has been an unusual number of shrikes the 
past fall and winter ; like the hawks, they follow in 
the wake of the little birds and prey upon them. Some 
seasons pass and I never see a shrike. This year I 
have seen at least a dozen while passing along the 
road. One day I saw one carrying its prey in its 
feet a performance which I supposed it incapable 
of, as it is not equipped for this business like a rapa- 
cious bird, but has feet like a robin. One wintry 
evening, near sunset, I saw one alight on the top of 
a tree by the road-side, with some small object in it? 
beak. I paused to observe it. Presently it flew 
iown into a scrubby old apple-tree, and attempted to 
kmpale the object upon a thorn or twig. It was oc- 
cupied in this way some moments, no twig or knob 
proving quite satisfactory. A little screech-owl was 
Evidently watching the proceedings from his door- 
vay, in the trunk of a decayed apple-tree ten or a 
dozen rods distant. Twilight was just falling, and 
the owl had come up from his snug retreat in th 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 185 

hollow trunk and was waiting for the darkness to 
deepen before venturing forth. I was first advised 
of his presence by seeing him approaching swiftly on 
silent, level wing. The shrike did not see him till 

' O 

the owl was almost within the branches. He then 
dropped his game, which proved to be a part of a 
shrew-mouse, and darted back into the thick cover, 
uttering a loud, discordant squawk, as one would say y 
" Scat ! scat ! scat ! " The owl alighted, and was, 
perhaps, looking about him for the shrike's impaled 
game, when I drew near. On seeing me he reversed 
his movement precipitately, flew straight back to the 
old tree, and alighted in the entrance to the cavity. 
As I approached, he did not so much seem to move 
as to diminish in size, like an object dwindling in the 
distance; he depressed his plumage, and, with his eye 
fixed upon me, began slowly to back and sidle into 
his retreat till he faded from my sight. The shrike 
wiped his beak upon the branches, cast an eye down 
at me and at his lost mouse, and then flew away. He 
was a remarkably fine specimen, his breast and un- 
der parts as white as snow, and his coat of black 
and ashen gray appearing very bright and fresh. A 
few nights afterward, as I passed that way, I saw 
rhe little owl again sitting in his door-way, waiting 
*or the twilight to deepen, and undisturbed by the 
passers-by ; but when I paused to observe him, he 
law that he was discovered and he slunk back into 
ois den as on the former occasion. 



186 NOTES BY THE WAY. 



SHAKESPEARE'S NATURAL HISTORY. 

IT is surprising that so profuse and prodigal a poet 
as Shakespeare, and one so bold in his dealings with 
human nature, should seldom or never make a mis- 
take in his dealings with physical nature, or take an 
unwarranted liberty with her. True it is that his al- 
lusions to nature are always incidental never his 
main purpose or theme, as with many later poets ; 
yet his accuracy and closeness to fact, and his wide 
and various knowledge of unbookish things, are seen 
in his light "touch and go" phrases and compari- 
sons as clearly as in his more deliberate and central 
work. 

In " Much Ado about Nothing," Benedick says to 
Margaret : 

" Thy wit is as quick as the greyhound's mouth it catches." 

One marked difference between the greyhound and 
all other hounds and dogs is, that it can pick up its 
game while running at full speed, a feat that no other 
dog can do. The fox-hound, or farm-dog, will run 
over a fox or a rabbit many times without being able 
to seize it. 

In " Twelfth Night," the clown tells Viola that 

" Fools are as like husbands as pilchards are to herrings th| 
husband 's the bigger." 

The pilchard closely resembles the herring, but if 
thicker and heavier, with larger scales. 



NOTES BY THE WAT. 187 

In the 'same play, Maria, seeing Malvolio coming, 
lays : 

"Here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling." 

Shakespeare, then, knew that fact so well known to 
poachers, and known also to many an American 
school-boy, namely, that a trout likes to be tickled, 
or behaves as if he did, arid that by gently tickling 
his sides and belly you can so mesmerize him, as it 
were, that he will allow you to get your hands in 
position to clasp him firmly. The British poacher 
takes the jack by the same tactics ; he tickles the 
jack on the belly ; the fish slowly rises in the water 
till it comes near the surface, when the poacher hav- 
ing insinuated both hands under him, he is suddenly 
scooped out and thrown upon the land. 

Indeed, Shakespeare seems to have known inti- 
mately the ways and habits of most of the wild creat- 
ures of Britain. He had the kind of knowledge of 
them that only the countryman has. In "As You 
Like It," Jaques tells Amiens : 

" I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs." 
Eveiy gamekeeper, and every farmer, for that matter, 
knows how destructive the weasel and its kind are to 
birds' eggs, and to the eggs of game birds and of do- 
mestic fowls. 

In " Love's Labor J s Lost," Biron says of Boyet : 

" This fellow picks up wit as pigeons peas." 
Pigeons do not pick up peas in this country, but they 
io in England, and are often very damaging to the 



188 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

farmer on that account. Shakespeare knew also the 
peculiar mariner in which they fed their young a 
manner that has perhaps given rise to the expression 
" sucking dove." In " As You Like It " is this pas- 



" Celia. Here comes Monsieur Le Bean. 

" Rosalind. With his mouth full of news. 

" Celia. Which he will put on us as pigeons feed their young. 

"Rosalind. Then shall we be news-crammed." 

When the mother pigeon feeds her young she brings 
the food, not in her beak like other birds, but in her 
crop ; she places her beak between the open mandi- 
bles of her young, and fairly crams the food, which 
is delivered by a peculiar pumping movement, down 
its throat. She furnishes a capital illustration of the 
eager, persistent news-monger. 

" Out of their burrows like rabbits after rain " is 
a comparison that occurs in " Coriolanus." In our 
Northern or New England States we should have to 
substitute woodchucks for rabbits, as our rabbits do 
not burrow but sit all day in their forms under a 
k jush or amid the weeds, and as they are not seen 
moving about after a rain, or at all by day ; but in 
England Shakespeare's line is exactly descriptive. 

Says Bottom to the fairy Cobweb, in " Midsummei 
Night's Dream " : 

"Monsieur Cobweb; good monsieur, get your weapons in you, 
:and, and kill me a red-hipped humble-bee on the top of a thistle 
ind, good monsieur, bring me the honey-bagr." 

This command might be executed in this country, foi 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 189 

we have the " red-hipped humble-bee," and we have 
the thistle, and there is no more likely place to look 
for the humble-bee in midsummer than on a thistle- 
blossom. 

But the following picture of a "wet spell" is more 
English than American : 

" The ox hath therefore stretch' d his yoke in vain, 
The plowman lost his sweat ; and the green corn 
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard; 
The fold stands empty in the drowned field, 
And crows are fatted with the murrain flock." 

Shakespeare knew the birds and wild fowl, and 
knew them perhaps as a hunter, as well as a poet. 
At least this passage would indicate as much : 

" As wild geese that the creeping fowler eye, 
Or russet-pated choughs, many in sort, 
Rising and cawing at the gun's report, 
Sever themselves and madly sweep the sky." 

IL illing the choughs " russet-pated," he makes the 
bill inge the whole head, or perhaps gives the effect 
of the birds' markings when seen at a distance ; the 
bill is red, the head is black. The chough is a spe- 
uies of crow. 

A poet must know the birds well to make one of 
Lis characters say, when he had underestimated a 
man, " I took this lark for a bunting," as Lafeu says 
of Parolles in " All 'a Well that Ends Well." The 
English bunting (JEJmberiza miliaria) is a field bird 
ike the lark, and much resembles the latter in form 
nd color, but is far inferior as a songster. Indeed, 



190 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

Shakespeare shows his familiarity with nearly all the 
British birds. 

" The ousel-cock, so black of hue, 

With orange-tawny bill, 
The throstle with his note so true, 
The wren with little quill." 

" The finch, the sparrow, and the lark, 

The plain-song cuckoo gray, 
Whose note full many a man doth mark, 
And dares not answer nay." 

In " Much Ado about Nothing " we get a glimpse 
of the lapwing : 

*' For look where Beatrice, like a lapwing, runs 
Close by the ground, to hear our conference." 

The lapwing is a kind of plover, and is very swift of 
foot. When trying to avoid being seen they run rap- 
idly with depressed heads, or "close by the ground," 
as the poet puts it. In the same scene, Hero says of 
Ursula : 

" I know her spirits are as coy and wild 
As haggards of the rock.'* 

The haggard falcon (Falco peregrinus) is a species of 
hawk found in North Wales and in Scotland. It 
breeds on high shelving cliffs and precipitous rocks. 
Had Shakespeare been an " amateur poacher " in his 
youth ? He had a poacher's knowledge of the wild 
creatures. He knew how fresh the snake appeared 
after it had cast its skin ; how the hedgehog makes 
himself up into a ball and leaves his " prickles " in 
whatever touches him ; how the butterflv came front 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 191 

ihe grub ; how the fox carries the goose ; where the 
squirrel hides his store ; where the* martlet builds its 
nest, etc. 

"Now is the woodcock near the gin," 
Bays Fabian, in Twelfth Night," and 

" Stalk on, stalk on ; the fowl sits," 
says Olaudio to Leonato, in " Much Ado." 

" Instruct thee how 
To snare the nimble marmozet," 

says Caliban, in " The Tempest." Sings the fool in 
"Lear": 

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

The hedge-sparrow is one of the favorite birds upon 
which the European cuckoo imposes the rearing of 
its young. If Shakespeare had made the house-spar- 
row, or the blackbird, or the bunting, or any of the 
graniferous, hard-billed birds, the foster-parent of the 
cuckoo, his natural history would have been at fault. 
Shakespeare knew the flowers, too, and knew their 
times and seasons : 

"When daisies pied, and violets blue, 
And lady smocks all silver-white, 
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue, 
Do paint the meadows with delight." 

They have, in England, the cuckoo-flower, which 
comes in April and is lilac in color, and the cuckoo- 
pint, which is much .ike our " Jack in the pulpit " 
but the poet does not refer to either of these (if h%. 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 

did we would catch him tripping), but to butter-cups, 
tvhich are called By rural folk in Britain " cuckoo- 
buds." 

In England the daffodil blooms in February and 
March ; the swallow comes in April usually ; hence 
the truth of Shakespeare's lines : 

"Daffodils, 

That come before the swallow dares, and take 
The winds of March with beauty." 

The only flaw I notice in Shakespeare's natural 
history is in his treatment of the honey-bee, but this 
was a flaw in the knowledge of the times as well. 
The history of this insect was not rightly read till 
long after Shakespeare wrote. He pictures a colony 
of bees as a kingdom, with 

" A king and officers of sorts," 

(see " Henry V."), whereas a colony of bees is an 
absolute democracy ; the rulers and governors and 
" officers of sorts " are the workers, the masses, the 
common people. A strict regard to fact also would 
spoil those fairy tapers in " Midsummer Night's 
Dream," 

"The honey-bags steal from the humble-bees, 
And, for night-tapers, crop their waxen thighs, 
And light them at the fiery glow-worm's eyes," 

since it is not wax that bees bear upon their thighs, 
but pollen, the dust of the flowers, with which beef 
make their bread. Wax is made from honey. 



NOTES BY THE WAY. 193 

The science or the meaning is also a little obscure 
in this phrase, which occurs in one of the plays : 

" One heat another heat expels " 

as one nail drives out another, or as one love cures 
another. 

In a passage in " The Tempest," he speaks of the 
ivy as if it were parasitical, like the mistletoe : 

"Now, he was 

The ivy which had hid my princely trunk, 
And sucked my verdure out on't." 

I believe it is not a fact that the ivy sucks the juice 
out of the trees it climbs upon, though it may much 
jiterfere with their growth. Its aerial rootlets are 
for support alone, as in the case with all climbers 
that are not twiners. But this may perhaps be re- 
garded as only a poetic license on the part of Shakes- 
peare ; the human ivy he was picturing no doubt fed 
upon the tree that supported it, whether the real ivy 
does or not. 

It is also probably untrue that 

. " The poor beetle that we tread upon, 
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great 
As when a giant dies/' 

though it has suited the purpose of other poets be- 
sides Shakespeare to say so. The higher and more 
complex the organization the more acute the pleasure 
and the pain. A toad has been known to live for 
^ays with the upper part of its head cut away by a 
scythe, and a beetle will survive for hours upon the 

13 



194 NOTES BY THE WAY. 

fisherman's hook. It, perhaps, causes a grasshopper 
less pain to detach one of its legs than it does a 
man to remove a single hair from his beard. Nerves 
alone feel pain, and the nervous system of a beetle is 
a very rudimentary affair. 

In " Coriolanus " there is a comparison which im- 
plies that a man can tread upon his own shadow 
a dift*cult feat in northern countries at all times ex- 
cept ,*t midday ; Shakespeare is particular to mention 

the t <ue of day : 

u Such a nature, 

Tickled with good success, disdains the shadow 
Which he treads on at noon " 



FOOT-PATH& 



FOOT-PATHS. 

AN intelligent English woman, spending a few 
years in this country with her family, says that one 
of her serious disappointments is that she finds it 
utterly impossible to enjoy nature here as she can 
at home ; so much nature as we have and yet no 
way of getting at it ; no paths, or by-ways, or stiles, 
or foot-bridges, no provision for the pedestrian out- 
side of the public road. One would think the peo- 
ple had no feet and legs in this country, or else did 
not know how to use them. Last summer she spent 
the season near a small rural village in the valley 
of the Connecticut, but it seemed as if she had not 
been in the country ; she could not come at the 
landscape, she could not reach a wood or a hill or a 
oretty nook anywhere without being a trespasser, or 
getting entangled in swamps or in fields of grass and 
grain, or having her course blocked by a high and 
difficult fence ; no private ways, no grassy lanes, no- 
jody walking in the fields or woods, nobody walking 
anywhere for pleasure, but everybody in carriages or 
wagons. 

She was stopping a mile from the village and 
every day used to wa/k down to the post-office fo 



198 FOOT-PATHS. 

her mail ; but instead of a short and pleasant cut 
across the fields, as there would have been in Eng- 
land, she was obliged to take the highway and face 
the dust and the mud and the staring people in their 
carriages. 

She complained, also, of the absence of bird voices 
so silent the fields and groves and orchards wero 
compared with what she had been used to at home 
The most noticeable midsummer sound everywhere 
was the shrill, brassy crescendo of the locust. 

All this is unquestionably true. There is far less 
bird music here than in England, except possibly in 
May and June, though if the first impressions of the 
Duke of Argyle are to be trusted, there is much less 
even then. The duke says : " Although I was in 
the woods and fields of Canada and of the States in 
the richest moments of the spring, I heard little 
of that burst of song which in England comes from 
the blackcap and the garden warbler, and the white- 
throat, and the reed warbler, and the common wren, 
and (locally) from the nightingale." Our birds are 
more withdrawn than the English, and their notes 
more plaintive and intermittent. Yet there are a 
few days here early in May, when the house-wren, 
the oriole, the orchard starling, the kingbird, the 
oobolink, and the wood-thrush, first arrive, that are 
BO full of music, especially in the morning, that one 
is loath to believe there is anything fuller or finer 
even in England. As walkers and lovers of rural 
scenes and pastimes we do not approach our British 



FOOT-PATHS. 199 

cousins. It is a seven days' wonder to see anybody 
walking in this country except on a wager or in a 
public hall or skating-rink, as an exhibition and trial 
of endurance. 

Countrymen do not walk except from necessity 
and country women walk far less than their city sis- 
ters. When city people come to the country they do 
not walk, because that would be conceding too much 
to the country; beside, they would soil their shoes 
and would lose the awe and respect which their im- 
posing turn-outs inspire. Then they find the country 
dull ; it is like water or milk after champagne ; they 
miss the accustomed stimulus, both mind and body 
relax, and walking is too great an effort. 

There are several obvious reasons why the English 
should be better or more habitual walkers than we 
are. Taken the year round, their climate is much 
more favorable to exercise in the open air. Their 
^oads are better, harder, and smoother, and there is a 
place for the man and a place for the horse. There 
country-houses and churches and villages are not 
strung upon the highway as they are with us, but are 
nestled here and there with reference to other things 
than convenience in " getting out." Hence the grassy 
lanes and paths through the fields. 

Distances are not so great in that country; the 
population occupies less space. Again, the land has 
been longer occupied and is more thoroughly sub- 
dued; it is easier to get about the fields; life haj 
dowed in the same channels for centuries. The Eng 



200 FOOT-PATHS. 

lish landscape is like a park, and is so thoroughly ru- 
ral and mellow and bosky that the temptation to walk 
amid its scenes is ever present to one. In compari- 
son, nature here is rude, raw, and forbidding; has no: 
that maternal and beneficent look, is less mindful of 
man, runs to briers and weeds or to naked sterility. 

Then, as a people the English are a private, do- 
mestic, homely folk, they dislike publicity, dislike the 
highway, dislike noise, and love to feel the grass 
under their feet. They have a genius for lanes and 
foot-paths ; one might almost say they invented them. 
The charm of them is in their books ; their rural 
poetry is modeled upon them. How much of Words- 
worth's poetry is the poetry of pedestrianism ! A 
foot-path is sacred in England ; the king himself can- 
not close one ; the courts recognize them as some- 
thing quite as important and inviolable as the high- 
way. 

A foot-path is of slow growth, and it is a wild flhy 
thing that is easily scared away. The plow must re- 
spect it, and the fence or hedge make way for it. It 
requires a settled state of things, unchanging habits 
among the people, and long tenure of the land ; the 
rill of life that finds its way there must have a peren- 
nial source and flow there to-morrow and the next 
day and the next century. 

When I was a youth and went to school with my 
brothers we had a foot-path a mile long. On going 
from home after leaving the highway there was a de- 
scent through a meadow, then through a large mapla 



FOOT-PATHS. 201 

and beech wood, then through a long stretch of rather 
barren pasture land which brought us to the creek in 
the valley, which we crossed on a slab or a couple of 
rails from the near fence ; then more meadow land 
with a neglected orchard, and then the little gray 
school-house itself toeing the highway. In winter 
our course was a hard, beaten path in the snow vis- 
ible from afar, and in summer a well-defined trail. 
In the woods it wore the roots of the trees. It 
steered for the gaps or low places in the fences, and 
avoided the bogs and swamps in the meadow. I 
can recall yet the very look, the very physiognomy 
of a large birch-tree that stood beside it in the midst 
of the woods; it sometimes tripped me up with a 
large root it sent out like a foot. Neither do I for- 
get the little spring run near by where we frequently 
paused to drink, and gathered " crinkle " root (Den- 
tana) in the early summer, nor the dilapidated log 
fence that was the highway of the squirrels, nor the 
ledges to one side from whence in early spring the 
skunk and 'coon sallied forth and crossed our path, 
nor the gray, scabby rocks in the pasture, nor the 
solitary tree, nor the old weather-worn stump ; no, 
nor the creek in which I plunged one winter morning 
,n attempting to leap its swollen current. But the 
path served only one generation of school children ; 
it faded out more than thirty years ago, and the feet 
that made it are widely scattered, while some of them 
have found the path that leads through the Valley 
of the Shadow. Almost the last words of one of thesi 



202 FOOT-PATHS. 

school-boys, then a man grown, seemed as if he might 
have had this very path in mind and thought him- 
self again returning to his father's house : " I must 
hurry," he said, " I have a long way to go up a hill 
and through a dark wood, and it will soon be night." 

We are a famous people to go " cross lots," but we 
do not make a path, or, if we do, it does not last ; the 
scene changes, the currents set in other directions, or 
cease entirely, and the path vanishes. In the South 
one would find plenty of bridle paths, for there 
everybody goes horseback, and there are few pass- 
able roads ; and the hunters and lumbermen of the 
North have their trails through the forest following % 
line of blazed trees ; but in all my acquaintance with 
the country, the rural and agricultural sections, 
I do not know a pleasant, inviting path leading from 
house to house, or from settlement to settlement, by 
which the pedestrian could shorten or enliven a jour- 
ney or add the charm of the seclusion of the fields 
to his walk. 

What a contrast England presents in this respect, 
according to Mr. Jennings's pleasant book, " Field 
Paths and Green Lanes." The pedestrian may go 
about quite independent of the highway. Here is a 
glimpse from his pages : " A path across the field, 
seen irom the station, leads into a road close by the 
T odge gate of Mr. Cubett's house. A little beyond 
.his gate is another and smaller one, from which a 
narrow path ascends straight to the top of the hill 
and comes out just opposite the post-office on Ran 



FOOT-PATHS. 203 

more Common. The Common at another point may 
be reached by a shorter cut. After entering a path 
close by the lodge, open the first gate you come to 
on the right hand. Cross the road, go through the 
gate opposite and either follow the road right out 
upon Ranmore Common, past the beautiful deep dell 
or ravine, or take a path which you will see on your 
left, a few yards from the gate. This winds through 
a very pretty wood, with glimpses of the valley here 
and there on the way, and eventually brings you out 
upon the carriage-drive to the house. Turn to the 
right and you will soon find yourself upon the Com- 
mon. A road or path opens out in front of the up- 
per lodge gate. Follow that and it will take you to 
a small piece of water from whence a green path 
strikes off to the right, and this will lead you all 
across the Common in a northerly direction," etc. 
Thus we may see how the country is threaded with 
paths. A later writer, the author of " The Game- 
keeper at Home " and other books, says : " Those 
only know a country who are acquainted with itp 
foot-paths. By the roads, indeed, the outside r^ay 
oe seen ; but the foot-paths go through the heart of 
the land. There are routes by which mile after mile 
may be traveled without leaving the sward. So you 
may pass from village to village ; now crossing green 
meadows, now corn-fields, over brooks, past woods, 
through farm-yard and rick < barken.' " 

The conditions of life in this country have not 
been favorable to the development of by-ways. W* 



204 TOOT-PATHS. 

do not take to lanes and to the seclusion of the fields, 
We love to be upon the road, and to plant our 
houses there, and to appear there mounted upon a 
horse or seated in a wagon. It is to be distinctly 
stated, however, that our public highways, with their 
breadth and amplitude, their wide grassy margins, 
their picturesque stone or rail fences, their outlooks, 
and their general free and easy character, are far 
more inviting to the pedestrian than the narrow lanes 
and trenches that English highways for the most 
part are. The road in England is always well kept, 
the road-bed is often like a rock, but the traveler's 
view is shut in by high hedges, and very frequently 
he seems to be passing along a deep, nicely-graded 
ditch. The open, broad landscape character of our 
highways is quite unknown in that country. 

The absence of the paths and lanes is not so great 
a matter, but the decay of the simplicity of manners 
and of the habits of pedestriauism which this absence 
implies is what I lament. The devil is in the horse 
to make men proud and fast and ill-mannered ; only 
when you go afoot do you grow in the grace of gen- 
tleness and humility. But no good can come out of 
this walking mania that is now sweeping over the 
country, simply because it is a mania and not a nat- 
ural and wholesome impulse. It is a prostitution of 
'.he noble pastime. 

It is not the walking merely, it is keeping yourself 
ui tune for a walk, in the spiritual and bodily condi- 
tion in which you can find entertainment and exhila- 



FOOT-PATHS. 205 

ration in so simple and natural a pastime. You are 
eligible to any good fortune when you are in the 
condition to enjoy a walk. When the air and water 
tastes sweet to you, how much else will taste sweet ! 
When the exercise of your limbs affords you pleasure^ 
and the play of your senses upon the various objects 
and shows of nature quickens and stimulates your 
spirit, your relation to the world and to yourself is 
what it should be simple and direct and whole- 
some. The mood in which you set out on a spring 
or autumn ramble or a sturdy winter walk, and your 
greedy feet have to be restrained from devouring 
the distances too fast, is the mood in which your best 
thoughts and impulses come to you, or in which you 
might embark upon any noble and heroic enterprise. 
Life is sweet in such moods, the universe is complete, 
and there is no failure or imperfection anywhere. 



A BUNCH OF HERBS 



A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

FRAGRANT WILD FLOWERS 

THE charge that was long ago made against OUT 
wild flowers by English travelers in this country, 
namely, that they were odorless, doubtless had its 
origin in the fact, that, whereas in England the 
sweet-scented flowers are among the most common 
and conspicuous, in this country they are rather shy 
and withdrawn, and consequently not such as trav- 
elers would be likely to encounter. Moreover, the 
British traveler, remembering, the deliciously fragrant 
blue violets he left at home, covering every grassy 
slope and meadow-bank in spring, and the wild clem- 
atis, or traveler's joy, overrunning hedges and old 
walls with its white, sweet-scented blossoms ; and 
finding the corresponding species here, equally abun- 
dant, but entirely scentless, very naturally inferred 
that our wild flowers were all deficient in this respect 
He would be confirmed in this opinion, when, on 
turning to some of our most beautiful and striking 
native flowers, like the laurel, the rhododendron, the 
columbine, the inimitable fringed gentian, the burn- 
ing cardinal -flower, or our asters and golden-rod, 
14 



210 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

dashing the road-sides with tints of purple and gold, 
he found them scentless also. " Where are your fra- 
grant flowers ? " he might well say. " I can find none." 
Let him look closer and penetrate our forests, and 
visit our ponds and lakes. Let him compare our 
matchless, rosy-lipped, honey-hearted trailing arbutus 
with his own ugly ground-ivy (Nepeta Glechoma) ; let 
him compare our sumptuous fragrant pond-lily with 
his own odorless N. alba. In our Northern woods 
he shall find the floors carpeted with the delicate 
Linnaea, its twin rose-colored, nodding flowers filling 
the air with fragrance. (I am aware that the Linnaea 
is found in some parts of Northern Europe.) The 
fact is, we perhaps have as many sweet-scented wild 
flowers as Europe has, only they are not quite so 
prominent in our flora, and so well known to our 
people or to our poets. 

Think of Wordsworth's " Golden Daffodils " : 

"I wandered lonely as a cloud 

That floats on high o'er vales and hills, 
When, all at once, I saw a crowd, 

A host of golden daffodils, 
Beside the lake, beneath the trees, 
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. 

" Continuous as the stars that shine 
And twinkle on the milky way, 
They stretched in never-ending line 

Along the margin of a bay. 
Ten thousand saw I at a glance, 
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance." 

No such sight could greet the poet's eye here 



A BUNCH OF HERBS. 211 

He might see ten thousand marsh marigolds, or ten 
times ten thousand Houstonias, but they would not 
toss in the breeze, and they would not be sweet- 
scented like the daffodils. 

It is to be remembered, too, that in the moister 
atmosphere of England the same amount of fragrance 
would be much more noticeable than with us. Think 
how our sweet bay (Magnolia glaucd), or our pink 
azalea, or our white alder (Cflethra), to which they 
have nothing that corresponds, would perfume that 
heavy, vapor-laden air. 

In the woods and groves in England, the wild 
hyacinth grows very abundantly in spring, and, in 
places, the air is loaded with its fragrance. In our 
woods, a species of dicentra, commonly called squirrel 
corn, has nearly the same perfume, and its racemes 
Df nodding whitish flowers, tinged with red, are quite 
as pleasing to the eye, but it is a shyer, less abundant 
plant. When our children go to the fields in April 
and May, they can bring home no wild flowers as 
pleasing as the sweet English violet, and cowslip, and 
yellow daffodil, and wall-flower ; and, when British 
children go to the woods at the same season, they can 
load their hands and baskets with nothing that com- 
pares with our trailing arbutus, or, later in the season, 
with our azaleas ; and, when their boys go fishing or 
boating in summer, they can wreathe themselves with 
nothing that approaches our pond-lily. 

There are upward of thirty species of fragrant 
Dative wild flowers and flowering shrubs and trees Ji 



212 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

New England and New York, and, no doubt, many 
more in the South and West. My list is as fol 
lows 

White violet ( Viola blanda). 
Canada violet ( Viola Canadensis). 
Hepatica (occasionally fragrant). 
Trailing arbutus (Epiycea repens). 
Mandrake (Podophyllum). 
Yellow lady's -slipper (C. parviflorum). 
Purple lady' s-slipper (C. acaule). 
Squirrel corn (Dicentra Canadensii). 
Showy orchis (0. spectabilis.) 
Purple-fringed orchis (P. psycodes). 
Arethusa (A. bulbora). 
Calopogon ( C. pulchellus). 
Lady's-tresses (Spiranthes Cernum). 
Pond-lily (N. odorata). 
Honeysuckle (Lonicera grata}. 
Twin-flower (Linnaa borealis). 
Sugar-maple (Acer saccharinum) 
Linden (Tilia Americana). 
Locust-tree (R. pseudacacia). 
White alder (Clethra). 
Smooth azalea (A. arborescent). 
White azalea (^4. viscosa). 
Pinxter-flower (A. nudiflora). 
Yellow azalea (A. calendulacea). 
Sweet bay (Magnolia glauca). 
Mitchell a-vine (M. repens). 
Sweet colt's-foot (Nardosamiapalmata). 
Pasture thistle ( C. pumilum). 
False wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia). 
Spotted wintergreen ( C. maculata). 
Prince's pine (C. umbellata). 
Evening primrose ((Enothera biennit). 
Hairy loosestrife ( Lysimachia ciliafa). 
Dogbane \Apocynum). 



A BUNCH OF HERBS. 213 

Ground nut (Apios tuberosa). 
Adder's-tongue Pogonia (P. ophioglossoides). 
Horned bladderwort ( Utricularia cornuta). 

The last-named, horned bladderwort, is peihaps 
/he most fragrant flower we have. In a warm, moist 
atmosphere, its odor is almost too strong. It is a 
plant with a slender, leafless stalk or scape less than 
a foot high, with two or more large yellow hood or 
helmet-shaped flowers. It is not common, and be- 
longs pretty well north, growing in sandy swamps 
and along the marshy margins of lakes and ponds. 
Its perfume is sweet and spicy in an eminent degree. 
I have placed in the above list several flowers that 
are intermittently fragrant, like the hepatica, or liver- 
leaf. This flower is the earliest, as it is certainly one 
of the most beautiful, to be found in our woods, and 
occasionally it is fragrant. Group after group may 
be inspected, ranging through all shades of purple 
and blue, with some perfectly white, and no odor be 
detected, when presently you will happen upon a lit- 
tle brood of them that have a most delicate and deli- 
cious fragrance. The same is true of a species of 
oosestrife growing along streams and on other wet 
places, with tall bushy stalks, dark-green leaves, and 
pale axillary yellow flowers (probably European). 
A handful of these flowers will sometimes exhale a 
Bweet fragrance ; at other times, or from another lo- 
cality, they are scentless. Our evening primrose is 
thought to be uniformly sweet-scented, but the past 
season I examined many specimens, and failed to fine 



214 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

one that was so. Some seasons the sugar-maple 
yields much sweeter sap than at others ; and even in 
dividual trees, owing to the soil, moisture, etc., where 
they stand, show a great difference in this respect. 
The same is doubtless true of the sweet-scented flow- 
ers. I had always supposed that our Canada violet 
the tall, leafy-stemmed white violet of our North- 
ern woods was odorless, till a correspondent called 
my attention to the contrary fact. On examination, 
I found that while the first ones that bloomed about 
May 25th had very sweet-scented foliage, especially 
when crushed in the hand, the flowers were practi- 
cally without fragrance. But as the season advanced 
the fragrance developed, till a single flower had a 
well-marked perfume, and a handful of them was 
sweet indeed. A single specimen, plucked about 
August 1st, was quite as fragrant as the English vio- 
let, though the perfume is not what is known as 
violet, but, like that of the hepatica, comes nearer 
to the odor of certain fruit-trees. 

It is only for a brief period that the blossoms of 
our sugar-maple are sweet - scented ; the perfume 
seems to become stale after a few days ; but pass un 
der this tree just at the right moment, say at night- 
fall on the first or second day of its perfect inflores- 
cence, and the air is loaded with its sweetness ; its 
perfumed breath falls upon you as its cool shadow 
does a few weeks later. 

After the Linnaea and the arbutus, the pretties* 
iweet-scented flowering-vine our woods hold is the 



A BUNCH OF HERBS. 215 

common Mitchella vine, called squaw-berry and par- 
tridge-berry. It blooms in June, and its twin flowers, 
light cream color, velvety, tubular, exhale a most 
agreeable fragrance. 

Our flora is much more rich in orchids than the 
European, and many of ours are fragrant. The first 
to bloom in the spring is the showy orchis ( 0. specta- 
lilis), though it is far less showy than several others. 
I find it in May, not on hills where Gray says it 
grows, but in low, damp places in the woods. Ifc has 
two oblong shining leaves, with a scape four or five 
inches high strung with sweet-scented, pink-purple 
flowsrs. I usually find it and the fringed polygala in 
bloom at the same time ; the lady's slipper is a little 
later. The purple-fringed orchis, one of the most 
showy and striking of all our orchids, blooms in mid- 
summer in swampy meadows and in marshy, grassy 
openings in the woods, shooting up a tapering column 
or cylinder of pink-purple-fringed flowers, that one 
may see at quite a distance, and the perfume of 
which is too rank for a close room. This flower is, 
perhaps, like the English fragrant orchis, found in 
pastures. ^ 

No fragrant flowers in the shape of weeds have 
come to us from the Old World, and this leads me to 
remark that plants with sweet-scented flowers are, for 
the most part, more intensely local, more fastidious 
and idiosyncratic than those without perfume. Our 
native thistle the pasture thistle has a marked 
fragrance, and it is much more shy and limj^ad in iti 



216 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

range than the common Old World thistle that grows 
everywhere. Our little, sweet, white violet (blanda) 
grows only in wet places, and the Canada violet oni^ 
in high, cool woods, while the common blue violet it 
much more general in its distribution. How fastidi- 
ous and exclusive is the cypripedium ! You will find 
it in one locality in the woods, usually on high, dry 
ground, and will look in vain for it elsewhere. It 
does not go in herds like the commoner plants, but 
affects privacy and solitude. When I come upon it 
in my walks, I seem to be intruding upon some very 
private and exclusive company. The large yellow 
cypripedium has a peculiar, heavy, oily odor. 

In like manner one learns where to look for ar- 
butus, for pipsissewa, for the early orchis ; they have 
their particular haunts, and their surroundings are 
nearly always the same. The yellow pond-lily is 
found in every sluggish stream and pond, but Nym- 
phcea odorata requires a nicer adjustment of condi- 
tions, and consequently is more restricted in its 
range. If the mullein was fragrant, or toad-flax, or 
the daisy, or blue weed (Echium), or golden-rod, they 
wctild doubtless be far less troublesome to the agri- 
culturist. There are, of course, exceptions to the 
rule I have here indicated, but it holds in most cases. 
Genius is a specialty ; it does not grow in every soil ; 
it skips the many and touches the few ; and the gift 
jf perfume to a flower is a special grace like genius 
w like beauty, and never becomes common or cheap 

* Do honey and fragrance always go together ii 



A BUNCH OF HERBS. 217 

Jie flowers ? " Not uniformly. Of the list of fra- 
grant wild flowers I have given, the only ones that the 
bees procure honey from, so far as I have observed, 
a-re arbutus, dicentra, sugar-maple, locust, and linden. 
Non-fragrant flowers that yield honey are those of 
the raspberry, clematis, sumac, white oak, bugloss, 
ailanthus, golden-rod, aster, fleabane. A large num- 
ber of odorless plants yield pollen to the bee. There 
is honey in the columbine, but the bees do not get it. 
I wonder they have not learned to pierce its spura 
from the outside, as they do with dicentra. There 
ought to be honey in the honeysuckle, but if there 
is the hive-bees make no attempt to get it. 



WEEDS. 

ONE is tempted to say that the most human 
plants, after all, are the weeds. How they cling to 
man and follow him around the world, and spring up 
wherever he sets his foot. How they crowd around 
his barns and dwellings, and throng his garden and 
jostle and override each other in their strife to be 
uear him. Some of them are so domestic and fa- 
miliar, and so harmless withal, that one comes to 
regard them with positive affection. Motherwort, 
catnip, plantain, tansy, wild-mustard, what a homely 
human look they have ; they are an integral part 
of every old homestead. Your smart new place 



218 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

will wait long before they draw near it. Or kiiot 
grass that carpets every old door-yard, and fringes 
every walk and softens every path that knows the 
feet of children, or that leads to the spring, or to 
the garden, or to the barn, how kindly one comes to 
look upon it. Examine it with a pocket glass and 
see how wonderfully beautiful and exquisite are its 
tiny blossoms. It loves the human foot, and when 
the path or the place is long disused other plants 
usurp the ground. 

The gardener and the farmer are ostensibly the 
greatest enemies of the weeds, but they are in reality 
their best friends. Weeds, like rats and mice, in 
crease and spread enormously in a cultivated country. 
They have better food, more sunshine, and more aids 
in getting themselves disseminated. They are sent 
from one end of the land to the other in seed grain 
of various kinds, and they take their share, and 
more too, if they can get it, of the phosphates and 
stable manures. How sure, also, they are to survive 
any war of extermination that is waged against them, 
In yonder field is ten thousand and one Canada 
thistles. The farmer goes resolutely to work and 
destroys ten thousand and thinks the work is finished, 
but he has done nothing till he has destroyed the ten 
thousand and one. This one will keep up the stock 
and again cover his fields with thistles. 

Weeds are Nature's makeshift. She rejoices in the 
grass and the grain, but when these fail to cover hei 
Qftkedness, she resorts to weeds. It is in her plan 01 



A BUNCH OF HERBS. 219 

a part of her economy to keep the ground constantly 
covered with vegetation of some sort, and she has 
layer upon layer of seeds in the soil for this purpose, 
and the wonder is that each kind lies dormant until 
it is wanted. If I uncover the earth in any of my 
fields, ragweed and pigweed (Amaranth) spring up j 
if these are destroyed, harvest grass, or quack grass, 
or purslane, appears. The spade or plow that turns 
these under it is sure to turn up some other variety, 
as chickweed, sheep-sorrel, or goose-foot. The soil 
is a store-house of seeds. 

The old farmers say that wood-ashes will bring in 
the white clover, and it will ; the germs are in the 
soil wrapped in a profound slumber, but this stimulus 
tickles them until they awake. Stramonium has 
been known to start up on the site of an old farm 
building, when it had not been seen in that locality 
for thirty years. I have been told that a farmer 
somewhere in New England, in digging a well came 
at a great depth upon sand like that of the sea-shore ; 
it was thrown out, and in due time there sprang from 
it a marine plant. I have never seen earth taken 
from so great a depth that it would not before the 
end of the season be clothed with a crop of weeds. 
Weeds are so full of expedients, and the one engross- 
ing purpose with them is to multiply. The wild 
onion multiplies at both ends, at the top by seed, and 
.it the bottom by offshoots. Toad-flax travels under 
ground and above ground. Never allow a seed to 
ripen and yet it will cover your field. Cut off th 



220 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

head of the wild carrot, and in a week or two there 
are five heads in room of this one ; cut off these and 
by fall there are ten looking defiance at you from the 
same root. Plant corn in August, and it will go for- 
ward with its preparations as if it had the whole 
season before it. Not so with the weeds ; they have 
learned better. If amaranth, or abutilon, or bur- 
dock, gets a late start it makes great haste to develop 
its seed ; it foregoes its tall stalk and wide flaunting 
growth, and turns all its energies into keeping up the 
succession of the species. Certain fields under the 
plow are always infested with " blind nettles " ( Gali- 
opsis), others with wild buckwheat, black-bindweed, 
or cockle. The seed lies dormant under the sward, 
the warmth and the moisture affect it not until other 
conditions are fulfilled. 

The way in which one plant thus keeps another 
down is a great mystery. Germs lie there in the 
soil and resist the stimulating effect of the sun and 
the rains for years, and show no sign. Presently 
something whispers to them, "Arise, your chance 
lias come ; the coast is clear ; " and they are up and 
doing in a twinkling. 

Weeds are great travelers; they are, indeed, the 
tramps of the vegetable world. They are going east, 
west, north, south ; they walk ; they fly ; they swim ; 
ihey steal a ride ; they travel by rail, by flood, by 
wind ; they go under ground, and they go above, 
across lots, and by the highway. But, like othei 
tramps, they find it safest by the highway ; in th 



A BUNCH OF HERBS. 221 

fields they are intercepted and cut off ; but on the 
public road, every boy, every passing herd of sheep 
or cows, gives them a lift. Hence the incursion of a 
uew weed is generally first noticed along the high- 
way or the railroad. In Orange County I saw from 
the car window a field overrun with what I took to 
be the branching white mullein (V. lychnitis). Gray 
says it is found in Pennsylvania and at the head of 
Oneida Lake. Doubtless it had come by rail from 
one place or the other. Our botanist says of the 
bladder campion (Silene inflata), a species of pink, 
that it has been naturalized around Boston ; but it is 
now much farther west, and I know fields along the 
Hudson overrun with it. Streams and water-courses 
are the natural highway of the weeds. Some years 
ago, and by some means or other, the viper bugloss, 
or blue weed (Echiuvri), which is said to be a trouble- 
some weed in Virginia, effected a lodgment near the 
head of the Esopus Creek, a tributary of the Hudson. 
From this point it has made its way down the stream, 
overrunning its banks and invading meadows and cul- 
tivated fields, and proving a serious obstacle to the 
farmer. All the gravelly, sandy margins and islands 
of the Esopus, sometimes acres in extent, are in June 
-ind July blue with it, and rye and oats and grass in 
the near fields find it a serious competitor for posses- 
sion of the soil. It has gone down the Hudson, and 
s appearing in the fields along its shores. The tides 
carry it up the mouths of the streams where it takes 
root ; the winds, or the birds, or other agencies, in 



222 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

time give it another lift, so that it is slowly but surely 
making its way inland. The bugloss belongs tc 
what may be called beautiful weeds, despite its rough 
and bristly stalk. Its flowers are deep violet-blue, 
the stamens exserted, as the botanists say, that is, 
projected beyond the mouth of the corolla, with 
showy red anthers. This bit of red, mingling with 
the blue of the corolla, gives a very rich, warm pur- 
ple hue to the flower, that is especially pleasing at a 
little distance. The best thing I know about this 
weed besides its good looks is that it yields honey or 
pollen to the bee. 

Another foreign plant that the Esopus Creek has 
distributed along its shores and carried to the Hudson 
is saponaria, known as " Bouncing Bet." It is a 
common, and, in places, a troublesome weed in this 
valley. Bouncing Bet is. perhaps, its English name, 
as the pink -white complexion of its flowers with 
their perfume and the coarse, robust character of the 
plant really give it a kind of English feminine come- 
liness and bounce. It looks like a Yorkshire house- 
maid. Still another plant in my section, which I no- 
tice has been widely distributed by the agency of 
Tater, is the spiked loosestrife (L. salicaria). It first 
appeared many years ago along the Wallkill ; now it 
may be seen upon many of its tributaries, and all 
along its banks, and in many of the marshy bays and 
coves along the Hudson, its great masses of purple- 
red bloom in middle and late summer affording a 
welcome relief to the traveler's eye. It also belong* 



A BUNCH OF HERBS. 223 

to the class of beautiful weeds. It grows rank and 
tall, in dense communities, and always presents the 
eye with a generous mass of color. In places, the 
marshes and creek banks are all aglow with it, its 
wand-like spikes of flowers shooting up and uniting 
in volumes or pyramids of still flame. Its petals, 
when examined closely, present a curious wrinkled or 
or crumpled appearance, like newly-washed linen ; 
but when massed the effect is eminently pleasing. 
It also came from abroad, probably first brought to 
this country as a garden or ornamental plant. 

As a curious illustration of how weeds are carried 
from one end of the earth to the other, Sir Joseph 
Hooker relates this circumstance : " On one occa- 
sion," he says, " landing on a small uninhabited isl- 
and, nearly at the Antipodes, the first evidence I met 
with of its having been previously visited by man 
was the English chick weed ; and this I traced to a 
mound that marked the grave of a British sailor, and 
that was covered with the plant, doubtless the off- 
spring of seed that had adhered to the spade or mat- 
tock with which the grave had been dug." 

Ours is a weedy country because it is a roomy 
country. Weeds love a wide margin, and they find 
t here. You shall see more weeds in one day's travel 
n this country than in a week's journey in Europe. 
V>ur culture of the soil is not so close and thorough, 
Dur occupancy not so entire and exclusive. The 
weeds take up with the farmers' leavings, and find 
good fare. One may see a large slice taken frcm a 



224 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

field by elecampane, or by teasle, or milkweed 
whole acres given up to whiteweed, golden-rod, wil'd 
carrots, or the ox-eye daisy; meadows overrun with 
bear-weed ( V. viride), and sheep pastures nearly 
ruined by St. John's- wort or the Canada thistle. Our 
farms are so large and our husbandry so loose that 
we do not mind these things. By and by we shall 
clean them out. When Sir Joseph Hooker landed 
in New England a few years ago, he was surprised 
to find how the European plants flourished there. He 
found the wild chiccory growing far more luxuriantly 
than he had ever seen it elsewhere, " forming a tan- 
gled mass of stems and branches, studded with tor- 
quoise-blue blossoms, and covering acres of ground." 
This is one of the many weeds that Emerson binds 
into a bouquet, in his " Humble- Bee " : 

" Succory to match the sky, 
Columbine with horn of honey, 
Scented fern and agrimony, 
Clover, catchfly, adder's-tongue, 
And brier-roses, dwelt among." 

A less accurate poet than Emerson would probably 
have let his reader infer that the bumble-bee gathered 
honey from all these plants, but Emerson is careful 
"o say only that she dwelt among them. Succory is 
i ne of Virgil's weeds also, 

*' And spreading succ'ry chokes the rising field." 

Is there not something in our soil and climate 
exceptionally favorable to weeds something harsh, 
nngenial, sharp-toothed, that is akin to them ? How 



A BUNCH OF HERBS. 225 

woody and rank and fibrous many varieties become, 
lasting the whole season, and standing up stark and 
stiff through the deep winter snows, desiccated, 
preserved by our dry air ! Do nettles and thistles 
bite so sharply in any other country ? Let the farmer 
tell you how they bite of a dry midsummer day when 
he encounters them in his wheat or oat harvest. 

Yet it is a fact that all our more pernicious weeds, 
like our vermin, are of Old World origin. They 
hold up their heads and assert themselves here, and 
take* their fill of riot and license ; they are avenged 
for their long years of repression by the stern hand 
of European agriculture. We have hardly a weed 
we can call our own ; I recall but three that are at 
all noxious or troublesome, namely, milkweed, rag- 
weed, and golden-rod ; but who would miss the latter 
from our fields and highways ? 

"Along the road-side, like the flowers of gold 
That tawny Incas for their gardens wrought, 
Heavy with sunshine droops the golden-rod," 

sings Whittier. In Europe our golden-rod is culti- 
vated in the flower-gardens, as well it might be. The 
native species is found mainly in woods, and is mucb 
ess showy than ours. 

Our milkweed is tenacious of life ; its roots lie 
deep, as if to get away from the plow, but it seldom 
infests cultivated crops. Then its stalk is so full of 
milk and its pod so full of silk that one cannot but 
ascribe good intentions to iX if it does sometimes over- 
run the meadow. 
15 



226 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

"In dusty pods the milkweed 
Its hidden silk has spun," 

sings " H H.," in her " September." 

Of our ragweed not much can be set down that is 
complimentary, except that its name in the botany ia 
Ambrosia, food of the gods. It must be the food of 
the gods if of anything, for, so far as I have observed, 
nothing terrestrial eats it, not even billy-goats. (Yet> 
a correspondent writes me that in Kentucky the cat- 
tle eat it when hard pressed, and that a certain old 
farmer there, one season when the hay crop failed, 
cut and harvested tons of it for his stock in winter. 
It is said that the milk and butter made from such 
hay is not at all suggestive of the traditional Am- 
brosia !) It is the bane of asthmatic patients, but the 
gardener makes short work of it. It is about the 
only one of our weeds that follows the plow and the 
harrow, and, except that it is easily destroyed, I 
would suspect it to be an immigrant from the Old 
World. Our fleabane is a troublesome weed at times, 
but good husbandry has little to dread from it. 

But all the other outlaws of the farm and garden 
come to us from over seas ; and what a long list it is 

The common thistle, Gill, 

The Canada thistle, Nightshade, 

Burdock, Buttercup, 

Yellow dock, Dandelion, * 

Wild carrot, Wild mustard, 

Ox-eye daisy, Shepherd's purse, 

Chamomile, St. John's-wort, 

The mullein, Chickweed, 



A BUHCH OF HERBS. 227 

Dead nettle (Lamium\ Purslane, 

Hemp nettle ( Galiopsis), Mallow, 

Elecampane, Darnel, 

Plantain, Poison hemlock, 

Motherwort, Hop-clover, 

Stramonium, Yarrow, 

Catnip, Wild radish, 

Blue-weed, Wild parsnip, 

Stick-seed, Chiccory, 

Hound' s-tongue, Live-forever, 

Henbane, Toad-flax, 

Pigweed, Sheep-sorrel, 

Quitch grass, May-weed. 

mid others less noxious. To offset this list we hava 
given Europe the vilest of all weeds, a parasite that 
sucks up human blood, tobacco. Now if they catch 
the Colorado beetle of us, it will go far toward pay- 
ing them off for the rats and the mice, and for other 
pests in our houses. 

The more attractive and pretty of the British 
weeds, as the common daisy, of which the poets havj 
made so much, the larkspur, which is a pretty corn- 
field weed, and the scarlet field-poppy which flowers 
all summer, and is so taking amid the ripening grain, 
have not immigrated to our shores. Like a certain 
Bweet rusticity and charm of European rural life, 
they do not thrive readily under our skies. Our flea- 
bane (Erigenon Canadensis) has become a common 
road-side weed in England, and a few other of our 
native less known plants have gained a foothold in 
the Old World. Our beautiful jewel-weed (Impa- 
'.iens) has recently appeared along certain of the Eng- 
lish rivers. 



228 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

Poke-weed is a native American, and what a lusty 
royal plant it is ! It never invades cultivated fields 
but hovers about the borders and looks over the 
fences like a painted Indian sachem. Thoreau cov- 
eted its strong purple stalk for a cane, and the robins 
eat its dark crimson-juiced berries. 

It is commonly believed that the mullein is indig- 
enous to this country, for have we not heard that i 
is cultivated in European gardens, and christened the 
American velvet plant? Yet it, too, seems to have 
come over with the pilgrims, and is most abundant in 
the older parts of the country. It abounds through- 
out Europe and Asia, and had its economic uses with 
the ancients. The Greeks made lamp wicks of its 
dried leaves, and the Romans dipped its dried stalk 
in tallow for funeral torches. It affects dry uplands 
in this country, and, as it takes two years to mature, 
it is not a troublesome weed in cultivated crops. 
The first year it sits low upon the ground in its 
coarse flannel leaves, and makes ready ; if the plow 
romes along now its career is ended. The second 
season it starts upward its tall stalk, which in late 
summer is thickly set with small yellow flowers, and 
in fall is charged with myriads of fine black seeds. 
" As full as a dry mullein stalk of seeds " is almost 
equivalent to saying, " as numerous as the sands upon 
die sea-shore." 

Perhaps the most notable thing about the weeds that 
have come to us from the Old World, when compared 
with our native species, is their persistence, not to saj 



A BUNCH OF HERBS. 229 

pugnacity. They fight for the soil ; they plant colo- 
nies here and there and will not be rooted out. Our 
aative weeds are for the most part shy and harmless, 
and retreat before cultivation, but the European out- 
laws follow man like vermin ; they hang to his coat- 
skirts, his sheep transport them in their wool, his cow 
and horse in tail and mane. As I have before said, 
it is as with the rats and mice. The American rat 
is in the woods and is rarely seen even by woodmen, 
and the native mouse barely hovers upon the out- 
skirts of civilization ; while the Old World species 
defy our traps and our poison, and have usurped the 
land. So with the weeds. Take the thistles, for in- 
stance ; the common and abundant one everywhere, 
in fields and along highways, is the European spe- 
cies, while the native thistles, swamp thistle, pasture 
thistle, etc., are much more shy, and are not at all 
iroublesome. The Canada thistle, too, which came 
to us by way of Canada, what a pest, what a usurper, 
what a defier of the plow and the harrow ! I know 
of but one effectual way to treat it ; put on a pair of 
buckskin gloves, and pull up every plant that shows 
itself ; this will effect a radical cure in two summers. 
3f course the plow or the scythe, if not allowed to 
rest more than a month at a time, will finally con- 
quer it. 

Or take the common St. John's-wort (Hypericum 
perforatum), how has it established itself in our 
Gelds and become a most pernicious weed, very diffi- 
'ult to extirpate, while the native species are quite 



230 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

rare, and seldom or never invade cultivated fields, 
being found mostly in wet and rocky waste places 
Of Old World origin, too, is the curled leaf -dock (Ru~ 
mex crispus) that is so annoying about one's garden 
and home meadows, its long tapering root clinging to 
the soil with such tenacity that I have pulled upon it 
till I could see stars without budging it ; it has more 
lives than a cat, making a shift to live when pulled 
up and laid on top of the ground in the burning 
summer sun. Our native docks are mostly found in 
swamps, or near them, and are harmless. 

Purslane, commonly called " pusley," and which 
has given rise to the saying " as mean as pusley " 
of course is not American. A good sample of our 
native purslane is the Claytonia, or spring beauty, a 
shy, delicate plant that opens its rose-colored flowers 
in the moist sunny places in the woods or along their 
borders so early in the season. 

There are few more obnoxious weeds in cultivated 
ground than sheep-sorrel, also an Old World plant, 
while our native wood-sorrel, with its white, deli- 
cately veined flowers, or the variety with yellpw 
liowers, is quite harmless. The same is true of the 
mallow, the vetch, or tare, and other plants. We 
have no native plant so indestructible as garden or- 
pine, or live-forever, which our grandmothers nursed 
and for which they are cursed by many a farmer. 
The fat, tender succulent door-yard stripling turned 
out to be a monster that would devour the earth. ] 
have seen acres of meadow land destroyed by it 



A BUNCH OF HERBS. 231 

The way to di DWD an amphibious animal is to nevei 
allow it to come to the surface to breathe, and this is 
the way to kill live-forever. It lives by its stalk 
and leaf, more than by its root, and if cropped or 
bruised as soon as it comes to the surface it will in 
time perish. It laughs the plow, the hoe, the cultiva- 
tor to scorn, but grazing herds will eventually scotch 
it. Oar two species of native orpine, S. ternatum 
and S. telephioides are never troublesome as weeds. 

The European weeds are sophisticated, domesti- 
cated, civilized ; they have been to school to man 
for many hundred years and they have learned to 
thrive upon him; their struggle for existence has 
been sharp and protracted ; it has made them hardy 
and prolific ; they wi.ll thrive in a lean soil, or they 
will wax strong in a rich one ; in all cases they fol- 
low man and profit by him. Our native weeds, on 
the other hand, are furtive and retiring; they flee 
before the plow and the scythe, and hide in corners 
and remote waste places. Will they, too, in time, 
change their habits in this respect ? 

" Idle weeds are fast in growth," says Shakespeare, 
iit that depends whether the competition is sharp 
%nd close. If the weed finds itself distanced, or 
litted against great odds, it grows more slowly and 
i s of diminished stature, but let it once get the upper 
hand and what strides it makes ! Red-root will grow 
four or five feet high, if it has a chance, or it will 
extent itself with a few inches and mature its seed 
almost upon the ground* 



232 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

Many of our worst weeds are plants that have 
escaped from cultivation, as tbe wild radish, which 
is troublesome in parts of New England, the wild 
carrot, which infests the fields in eastern New York, 
and live-forever, which thrives and multiplies under 
the plow and harrow. In my section an annoying 
weed is abutilon, or velvet-leaf, also called " old 
maid," which has fallen from the grace of the gar- 

7 O O 

den and followed the plow afield. It will manage to 
mature its seeds if not allowed to start till midsum- 
mer. 

Of beautiful weeds quite a long list might be 
made without including any of the so-called wild 
flowers. A favorite of mine is the little moth mul- 
lein ( Verbascum llatard) that blooms along the high- 
way, and about the fields, and may be upon the edge 
of the lawn, from midsummer till frost comes. In 
winter its slender stalk rises above the snow, bearing 
its Found seed-pods on its pin-like stems, and is pleas- 
ing even then. Its flowers are yellow or white, large, 
wheel-shaped, and are borne vertically with filaments 
loaded with little tufts of violet wool. The plant 
has none of the coarse, hairy character of the common 
mullein. Our cone-flower, which one of our poets 
has called the " brown-eyed daisy," has a pleasing 
effect when in vast numbers they invade a meadow 
(if it is not your meadow), their dark brown centres 
or disks and their golden rays showing conspicu 
ausly. 

Bidens, two-teeth, or "pitch-forks," as the boy 



A BUNCH 01 HERBS. 233 

joill them, are welcomed by the eye when in late 
summer they make the swamps and wet, waste places 
yellow with their blossoms. 

Vervain is a beautiful weed, especially the blue or 
purple variety. Its drooping knotted threads also 
make a pretty etching upon the winter snow. 

Iron- weed ( Vernonia), which looks like an over- 
grown aster, has the same intense purple-blue color, 
and a royal profusion of flowers. There are giants 
among the weeds, as well as dwarfs and pigmies. 
One of the giants is purple eupatorium, which some- 
times carries its corymbs of flesh-colored flowers ten 
and twelve feet high. A pretty and curious little 
weed, sometimes found growing in the edge of the 
garden, is the clasping specularia, a relative of the 
harebell and of the European Venus's looking-glass. 
Its leaves are shell-shaped, and clasp the stalk so as 
to form little shallow cups. In the bottom of each 
cup three buds appear that never expand into flowers ; 
but when the top of the stalk is reached, one and 
sometimes two buds open a large, delicate purple- 
blue corolla. All the first-born of this plant are still- 
born, as it were ; only the latest, which spring from 
*ts summit, attain to perfect bloom. A weed which 
one ruthlessly demolishes when he finds it hiding 
from the plow amid the strawberries, or under the 
2urrant-bushes and grape-vines, is the dandelion ; yet 
who would banish it from the meadows or the lawns, 
where it copies in gold upon the green expanse tha 
: \tars of the midnight sky ? After its first blooming 



234 A BUNCH OF HERBS. 

comes its second, and finer and more spiritual inflo 
rescence, when its stalk, dropping its more earthly 
and carnal flower, shoots upward, and is presently 
crowned by a globe of the most delicate and aerial 
texture. It is like the poet's dream, which succeeds 
his rank and golden youth. This globe is a fleet oi 
a hundred fairy balloons, each one of which bears a 
seed which it is destined to drop far from the parent 
source. 

Most weeds have their uses ; they are not wholly 
malevolent. Emerson says a weed is a plant whose 
virtues we have not yet discovered ; but the wild 
creatures discover their virtues, if we do not. The 
bumble-bee has discovered that the hateful toad-flax, 
which nothing will eat, and which in some soils will 
run out the grass, has honey at its heart. Narrow- 
leaved plantain is readily eaten by cattle, and the 
honey-bee gathers much pollen from it. The ox- 
eye daisy makes a fair quality of hay, if cut before 
it gets ripe. The cows will eat the leaves of the 
burdock and the stinging nettles of the woods. But 
what cannot a cow's tongue stand ? She will crop 
the poison ivy with impunity, and I think would eat 
thistles, if she found them growing in the garden. 
Leeks and garlics are readily eaten by cattle in the 
spring, and are said to be medicinal to them. Weeds 
that yield neither pasturage for bee nor herd, yet 
afford seeds to the fall' and winter birds. This is 
tri Q of most of the obnoxious weeds of the garden 
and )f thistles. The wild lettuce yields down for tht 



A BUNCH OF HERBS. 235 

humming-bird's nest, and the flowers of whiteweed 
are used by the kingbird and cedar-bird. 

Yet it is pleasant to remember that, in our climate, 
there are no weeds so persistent and lasting and uni- 
versal as grass. Grass is the natural covering of the 
fields. There are but four weeds that I know of 
milkweed, live-forever, Canada thistle, and toad-flax 
that it will not run out in a good soil. We crop it 
and mow it year after year ; and yet, if the season 
favors, it is sure to come again. Fields that have 
never known the plow, and never been seeded by 
man, are yet covered with grass. And in human 
nature, too, weeds are by no means in the ascendant, 
troublesome as they are. The good green grass of 
love and truthfulness and common sense are more 
universal, and crowd the idle weeds to the wall. 

But weeds have this virtue : they are not easily 
discouraged ; they never lose heart entirely ; they 
die game. If they cannot have the best, they will 
take up with the poorest; if fortune is unkind to 
them to-day, they hope for better luck to-morrow ; if 
they cannot lord it over a corn-hill, they will sit hum- 
bly at its foot and accept what comes ; in all cases 
they make th% most of their opportunities. 



WINTER PICTURES. 



WINTER PICTURES. 

A WHITE DAY AND A BED FOX. 

THE day was indeed white, as white as three feet 
of snow and a cloudless St. Valentine's sun could 
make it. The eye could not look forth without 
blinking, or veiling itself with tears. The patch of 
plowed ground on the top of the hill where the wind 
had blown the snow away was as welcome to it as 
water to a parched tongue. It was the one refresh- 
ing oasis in this desert of dazzling light. I sat down 
upon it to let the eye bathe and revel in it. It took 
away the smart like a poultice. For so gentle and, 
on the whole, so beneficent an element, the snow as- 
serts itself very loudly. It takes the world quickly 
und entirely to itself. It makes no concessions or 
compromises, but rules despotically. It baffles and 
bewilders the eye, and it returns the sun glare for 
glare. Its coming in our winter climate is the hand 
of mercy to the earth and to everything in its bosom, 
but it is a barrier and an embargo to everything that 
moves above. 

We toiled up the long steep hill where only an oc- 
casional mullein-stalk or other tall weed stood abova 



240 WINTER PICTURES. 

the snow. Near the top the hill was girded with a 
bank of snow that blotted out the stone wall and 
every vestige of the earth beneath. These hills 
wear this belt till May, and sometimes the plow 
pauses beside them. From the top of the ridge an 
immense landscape in immaculate white stretches be- 
fore us. Miles upon miles of farms, smoothed and 
padded by the stainless element, hang upon the sides 
of the mountains, or repose across the long sloping 
hills. The fences of stone walls show like half ob- 
literated black lines. I turn my back to the sun, or 
shade my eyes with my hand. Every object or 
movement in the landscape is sharply revealed ; one 
could see a fox half a league. The farmer foddering 
his cattle, or drawing manure afield, or leading his 
horse to water, the pedestrian crossing the hill below 
the children wending their way toward the distant 
school-house, the eye cannot help but note them ; 
they are black specks upon square miles of luminous 
white. What a multitude of sins this unstinted char- 
ity of the snow covers ! How it flatters the ground ! 
Yonder sterile field might be a garden, and you would 
never suspect that that gentle slope with its pretty 
dimples and curves was not the smoothest of mead- 
ows, yet it is paved with rocks and stone. 

But what is that black speck creeping across that 
cleared field near the top of the mountain at the head 
of the valley, three quarters of a mile away ? It ia 
like a fly moving across an illuminated surface. A 
listant mellow bay floats to us and we know it is tha 



WINTER PICTURES. 241 

hound. He picked up the trail of the fox half an 
hour since, where he had crossed the ridge early in 
the morning, and now he has routed him and Rey- 
nard is steering for the Big Mountain. We press on, 
attain the shoulder of the range, where we strike a 
trail two or three days old, of some former hunters, 
which leads us into the woods along the side of the 
mountain. We are on the first plateau before the 
summit ; the snow partly supports us, but when it 
gives way and we sound it with our legs we find it 
up to our hips. Here we enter a white world indeed. 
It is like some conjuror's trick. The very trees have 
turned to snow. The smallest branch is like a clus- 
ter of great white antlers. The eye is bewildered 
by the soft fleecy labyrinth before it. On the lower 
ranges the forests were entirely bare, but now we 
perceive the summit of every mountain about us runs 
up into a kind of arctic region where the trees are 
loaded with snow. The beginning of this* colder 
zone is sharply marked all around the horizon ; the 
line runs as level as the shore line of a lake or sea ; 
indeed a warmer aerial sea fills all the valleys, sub- 
merging the lower peaks, and making white islands 
of all the higher ones. The branches bend with the 
rime. The winds have not shaken it down. It ad- 
heres to them like a growth. On examination I find 
the branches coated with ice from which shoot slen- 
der spikes and needles that penetrate and hold the 
cord of snow. It is a new kind of foliage wrought 
by the frost and the cbuds, and it obscures the sky 
16 



242 WINTER PICTURES. 

and fills the vistas of the woods nearly as much as 
the myriad leaves of summer. The sun blazes, the 
Bky is without a cloud or a film, yet we walk in a 
soft white shade. A gentle breeze was blowing on 
the open crest of the mountain, but one could carry 

a lighted candle through the&e snow-curtained and 

. 

snow-canopied chambers. How shall we see the fox 
if the hound drives him through this white obscurity ? 
But we listen in vain for the voice of the dog and 
press on. Hares' tracks were numerous. Their 
great soft pads had left their imprint everywhere, 
sometimes showing a clear leap of ten feet. They 
had regular circuits which we crossed at intervals. 
The woods were well suited to them, low and dense, 
and, as we saw, liable at times to wear a livery whiter 
than their own. 

The mice, too, how thick their tracks were, that 
of the white-footed mouse (H. lucopus) being most 
abundant ; but occasionally there was a much finer 
track, with strides or leaps scarcely more than an 
inch apart. This is perhaps the little shrew-mouse 
of the woods (S. persanatus?), the body not more 
than an inch and a half long, the smallest mole or 
mouse kind known to me. Once while encamping 
in the woods one of these tiny shrews got into an 
empty pail standing in camp, and died before morn- 
ing, either from the cold, or in despair of ever get- 
ting out the pail. 

At one point, around a small sugar-maple, the 
mice-tracks are unusually thick. It is doubtless their 



WINTER PICTURES. 243 

granary ; they have beech-nuts stored there, I'll war- 
rant. There are two entrances to the cavity of the 
tree, one at the base, and one seven or eight feet 
up. At the upper one, which is only just the size of 
a mouse, a squirrel has been trying to break in. He 
has cut and chiseled the solid wood to the depth of 
nearly an inch, and his chips strew the snow all 
about. He knows what is in there, and the mice 
know that he knows ; hence their apparent conster- 
nation. They have rushed wildly about over the 
snow, and, I doubt not, have given the piratical red 
squirrel a piece of their minds. A few yards away 
the mice have a hole down into the snow, which 
perhaps leads to some snug den under the ground. 
Hither they may have been slyly removing their 
stores, while the squirrel was at work with his back 
turned. One more night, and he will effect an en- 
trance : what a good joke upon him if he finds the 
cavity empty ! These native mice are very provident, 
and, I imagine, have to take many precautions to 
prevent their winter stores being plundered by the 
jquirrels, who live, as it were, from hand to mouth. 

We see several fresh fox-tracks, and wish for the 
hound ; but there are no tidings of him. After half 
an hour's floundering and cautiously picking our way 
through the woods, we emerge into a cleared field 
that stretches up from the valley below, and just laps 
over the back of the mountain It is a broad belt of 
white, that drops down, and down, till it joins other 
fields that sweep along the base of the mountain, a 



244 WINTER PICTURES. 

mile away. To the east, through a deep defile in the 
mountains, a landscape in an adjoining county lifts 
itself up, like a bank of white and gray clouds. 

When the experienced fox hunter comes out upon 
such an eminence as this, he always scrutinizes the 
fields closely that lie beneath him, and it many times 
happens that his sharp eye detects Reynard asleep 
upon a rock or a stone wall, in which case, if he be 
armed with a rifle and his dog be not near, the poor 
creature never wakens from his slumber. The fox 
nearly always takes his nap in the open fields, along 
the sides of the ridges, or under the mountain, where 
he can look down upon the busy farms beneath and 
hear their many sounds, the barking of dogs, the low- 
ing of cattle, the cackling of hens, the voices of men 
and boys, or the sound of travel upon the highway. 
It is on that side, too, that he keeps the sharpest look- 
out, and the appearance of the hunter above and be- 
hind him is always a surprise. 

We pause here, and with alert ears turned toward 
the Big Mountain in front of us, listen for the dog. 
But not a sound is heard. A flock of snow-buntings 
pass high above us, uttering their contented twitter, 
and their white forms seen against the intense blue 
give the impression of large snow-flakes drifting 
Across the sky. I hear a purple finch, too, and the 
feeble lisp of the red-pol. A shrike (the first I have 
peen this season) finds occasion to come this waj 
ulso. He alights on the tip of a dry limb, and frouc 
els perch can see into the valley on both sides of tht 



WINTER PICTURES. 246 

mountain He is prowling about for chickadees, no 
doubt, a troop of which I saw coming through the 
wood. When pursued by the shrike, the chickadee 
has been seen to take refuge in a squirrel-hole in a 
tree. Hark ! Is that the hound, or doth expectation 
mock the eager ear ? With open mouths and bated 
breaths, we listen. Yes, it is old " Singer ; " he is 
bringing the fox over the top of the range toward 
Butt End, the Ultima Thule of the hunters' tramps 
in this section. In a moment or two the dog is lost 
to hearing again. We wait for his second turn ; then 
for his third/ 

" He is playing about the summit," says my com- 
panion. 

" Let us go there," say I, and we were off. 

More dense snow-hung woods beyond the clearing 
where we begin our ascent of the Big Mountain, 
a chief that carries the range up several hundred feet 
higher than the part we have thus far traversed. 
We are occasionally to our hips in the snow, but for 
the most part the older stratum, a foot or so down, 
bears us ; up and up we go into the dim, muffled soli- 
tudes, our hats and coats powdered like millers. A 
half hour's heavy tramping brings us to the broad, 
level summit, and to where the fox and hound have 
crossed and recrossed many times. As we are walk- 
og along discussing the matter, we suddenly hear 
tie dog coming straight on to us. The woods are 
o choked with snow that we do not hear him till he 
breaks up from under the mojD^ain within a hundred 
rards of us 



246 WINTER PICTURES. 

" We have turned the fox ! " we both exclaim, 
much put out. 

Sure enough, we have. The dog appears in sight, 
is puzzled a moment, then turns sharply to the left, 
and is lost to eye and to ear as quickly as if he had 
plunged into a cave. The woods are, indeed, a kind 
of cave, a cave of alabaster, with the sun shining 
upon it. We take up positions and wait. These old 
hunters know exactly where to stand. 

" If the fox comes back," said my companion, " he 
will cross up there or down here," indicating two 
points not twenty rods asunder. * 

We stood so that each commanded one of the run- 
ways indicated. How light it was, though the sun 
was hidden ! Every branch and twig beamed in the 
Bun like a lamp. A downy woodpecker below me 
kept up a great fuss and clatter, all for my benefit, 
I suspected. All about me were great, soft mounds, 
where the rocks lay buried. It was a cemetery of 
drift bowlders. There ! that is the hound. Does his 
voice come across the valley from the spur off against 
us, or is it on our side down under the mountain ? 
After an interval, just as I am thinking the dog is 
going away from us along the opposite range, his 
voite comes up astonishingly near. A mass of snow 
falls from a branch, and makes one start ; but it is 
Dot the fox. Then through the white vista below me 
I catch a glimpse of something red or yellow, yel 
lowish-red or reddish-yellow ; it emerges from th 
lower ground and, with an easy, jaunty air, draw* 



WINTER PICTURES. 247 

near. I am ready and just in the mood to make 
a good shot. The fox stops just out of range and 
listens for the hound. He looks as bright as an au- 
tumn leaf upon the spotless surface. Then he starU 
on, but he is not coming to me, he is going to the 
other man. Oh, foolish fox, you are going straight 
into the jaws of death ! My comrade stands just 
there beside that tree. I would gladly have given 
Reynard the wink, or signaled to him if I could. 
It did seem a pity to shoot him, now he was out of 
my reach. I cringe for him, when, crack goes the 
gun ! The fox squalls, picks himself up, and plunges 
over the brink of the mountain. The hunter has not 
missed his aim, but the oil in his gun, he says, has 
weakened the strength of his powder. The hound, 
hearing the report, came like a whirlwind and was 
off in hot pursuit. Both fox and dog now bleed, 
the dog at his heels, the fox from his wounds. 

O ' 

In a few minutes there came up from under the 
mountain that long, peculiar bark, which the hound 
always makes when he has run the fox in, or when 
something new and extraordinary has happened. In 
this instance, he said plainly enough, " the race is up, 
ihe coward has taken to his hole, ho-o-o-le." Plung- 
ing down in the direction of the sound, the snow lit- 
erally to our waists, we were soon at the spot, a great 
ledge thatched over with three or four feet of snow. 
The dog was alternately licking his heels, and whining 
and berating the fox. The opening into which the 
atter had fled was partially closed, and, as I scraped 



248 WINTER PICTURES. 

out and cleared away the snow, I thought of the fa- 
miliar saying, that so far as the sun shines in, the 
snow will blow in. The fox, I suspect, has always 
his house of refuge, or knows at once where to flee to 
if hard pressed. This place proved to be a large ver- 
tical seam in the rock, into which the dog, on a little 
encouragement from his master, made his way. I 
thrust my head into the ledge's mouth, and in the dins 
light watched the dog. He progressed slowly and 
cautiously till only his bleeding heels were visible. 
Here some obstacle impeded him a few moments 
when he entirely disappeared and was presently face 
to face with the fox and engaged in mortal combat 
with him. It was a fierce encounter there beneath 
the rocks, t^e fox silent, the dog very vociferous. 
But after a time the superior weight and strength of 
the latter prevails and the fox is brought to light 
nearly dead. Reynard winks and eyes me suspi- 
ciously, as I stroke his head and praise his heroic 
defense; but the hunter quickly and mercifully puts 
an end to his fast ebbing life. His canine teeth seem 
unusually large and formidable, and the dog bears the 
marks of them in many deep gashes upon his face 
and nose. His pelt was quickly stripped off, reveal- 
ing his lean, sinewy form. 

The fox was not as poor in flesh as I expected to 
gee him, though I '11 warrant he had tasted very little 
food for days, perhaps for weeks. How his great 
activity and endurance can be kept up on the spare 
iiet he must of necessity be confined to, is a mystery 



WINTER PICTURES. 249 

Snow, snow, everywhere, for weeks and for months, 
and intense cold, and no hen-roost accessible, and no 
carcass of sheep or pig in the neighborhood. The 
hunter , tramping miles and leagues through his 
haunts, rarely sees any sign of his having caught 
anything. Earely, though, in the course of many 
winters he may have seen evidence of his having 
surprised a rabbit or a partridge, in the woods. He 
no doubt at this season lives largely upon the mem- 
ory (or the fat) of the many good dinners he had in 
the plentiful summer and fall. 

As we crossed the mountain on our return, we saw 
at one point blood-stains upon the snow, and as the 
fox-tracks were very thick on and about it, we con- 
cluded that a couple of males had had an encounter 
there, and a pretty sharp one. Reynard goes a-woo- 
ing in February, and it is to be presumed that, like 
other dogs, he is a jealous lover. A crow had alighted 
and examined the blood-stains, and now if he will 
look a little farther along, upon a flat rock he will 
find the flesh he was looking for. Our hound's nose 
was so blunted now, speaking without metaphor, that 
he would not look at another trail, but harried home 
to rest upon his laurels. 



250 WINTER PICTURES. 



A POTOMAC SKETCH. 

WHILE on a visit to Washington in January, 1878 
I went on an expedition down the Potomac with t 
couple of friends to shoot ducks. We left on th( 
morning boat that makes daily trips to and from 
Mount Vernon. The weather was chilly and th* 
sky threatening. The clouds had a singular appear 
ance ; they were boat-shaped, with well-defined keels 
I have seldom known such clouds to bring rain ; the^ 
are simply the fleet of ^Eolus, and so it proved on 
this occasion, for they gradually dispersed or faded 
out, and before noon the sun was shining. 

We saw numerous flocks of ducks on the passage 
down, and saw a gun (the man was concealed) shoot 
some from a u blind " near Fort Washington. Op- 
posite Mount Vernon, on the flats, there was a large 
"bed " of ducks. I thought the word a good one to 
describe a long strip of water thickly planted with 
them. One of my friends was a member of the 
Washington and Mount Vernon Ducking Club, which 
has its camp and fixtures just below the Mount Ver- 
non landing ; he was an old ducker. For my part 
I had never killed a duck, except with an ax, 
nor have I yet. 

We made our way along the beach from the land 
tog, over piles of drift-wood, and soon reached the 
quarters, a substantial building, fitted up with a stove 



WINTER FIGURES. 251 

bunks, chairs, a table, culinary utensils, crockery, etc., 
with one corner piled full of decoys. There were 
boats to row in and boxes to shoot from, and I felt 
sure we should have a pleasant time, whether we got 
any ducks or not. The weather improved hourly, 
till in the afternoon a well-defined installment of the 
Indian summer that had been delayed somewhere 
settled down upon the scene ; this lasted during our 
stay of two days. The river was placid, even glassy, 
the air richly and deeply toned with haze, and the 
sun that of the mellowest October. " The fairer the 
weather the fewer the ducks," said one of my com- 
panions. " But this is better than ducks/' I thought, 
and prayed that it might last. 

Then there was something pleasing to the fancy in 
being so near to Mount Veruon. It formed a sort 
of rich, historic background to our flitting and trivial 
experiences. Just where the eye of the great Cap- 
tain would perhaps first strike the water as he came 
out in the morning to take a turn up and down his 
long piazza, the Club had formerly had a " blind," 
but the ice of a few weeks before our visit had car- 
ried it away. A little lower down, and in full view 
from his bedroom window, was the place where the 
shooting from the boxes was usually done. 

The duck is an early bird, and not much given to 
wandering about in the afternoon ; hence it was 
thought not worth while to put out the decoys till 
the ne*t morning. We would spend the afternoon 
Coaming inland in quest of quail, or rabbits, or tur 



252 WINTER PICTURES. 

keys (for a brood of the last were known to lurk 
about the woods back there). It was a delightful 
afternoon's tramp through oak woods, pine barrens, 
and half-wild fields. We flushed several quail that 
the dog should have pointed, and put a rabbit to rout 
by a well-directed broadside, but brought no game to 
camp. We kicked about an old bushy clearing, where 
my friends had shot a wild turkey Thanksgiving Day, 
but the turkey could not be started again. One shoot- 
ing had sufficed for it. We crossed or penetrated 
extensive pine woods that had once (perhaps in 
Washington's time) been cultivated fields ; the mark 
of the plow was still clearly visible. The land had 
been thrown into ridges, after the manner of English 
fields, eight or ten feet wide, with a deep dead furrow 
between them for purposes of drainage. The pines 
were scrubby, what are known as the loblolly pines, 
and from ten to twelve inches through at the butt. 
In a low bottom among some red cedars, I saw rob- 
ins and several hermit thrushes, besides the yellow- 
rumped warbler. 

That night, as the sun went down on the one hand, 
the full moon rose up on the other, like the opposite 
side of an enormous scale. The river, too, was pres- 
ently brimming with the flood tide. It was so still 
one could have carried a lighted candle from shore 
to shore. In a little skiff, we floated and paddled up 
under the shadow of Mount Vernon and into the 
mouth of a large creek that flanks it on the left. In 
the profound hush of things, every sound on either 



WINTER PICTURES. 253 

shore was distinctly heard. A large bed of ducka 
were feeding over on the Maryland side, a mile or 
more away, and the multitudinous sputtering and 
shuffling of their bills in the water sounded decep- 
tively near. Silently we paddled in that direction. 
When about half a mile from them, all sound of feed- 
ing suddenly ceased ; then, after a time, as we kept 
on, there was a great clamor of wings, and the whole 
bed appeared to take flight. We paused and listened, 
and presently heard them take to the water again, 
far below and beyond us. 

We loaded a boat with the decoys that night, and 
in the morning, on the first sign of day, towed a box 
out in position, and anchored it, and disposed the de- 
coys about it. Two hundred painted wooden ducks, 
each anchored by a small weight that was attached 
by a cord to the breast, bowed and sidled and rode 
the water, and did everything but feed, in a bed many 
yards long. The shooting-box is a kind of coffin, in 
which the gunner is interred amid the decoys, 
buried below the surface of the water, and invisible, 
except from a point above him. The box has broad 
canvas wings, that unfold and spread out upon the 
surface of the water, four or five feet each way. 
These steady it, and keep the ripples from running in 
when there is a breeze. IroE. decoys sit upon these 
wings and upon the edge of the box, and sink it to 
the required level, so that when everything is com- 
pleted and the gunner is in position, from a distance 
or from the shore one sees only a large bed of ducks, 



254 WINTER PICTURES. 

with the line a little more pronounced in the centre, 
where the sportsman lies entombed, to be quickly 
resurrected when the game appears. He lies there 
stark and stiff upon his back, like a marble effigy 
upon a tomb, his gun by his side, with barely room 
to straighten himself in, and nothing to look at but 
the sky above him. His companions on shore keep 
a lookout, and, when ducks are seen on the wing, cry 
out, "Mark, coming up," or " Mark, coming down," 
or, "Mark, coming in,", as the case may be. If they 
decoy, the gunner presently hears the whistle of their 
wings, or may be he catches a glimpse of them over 
the rim of the box, as they circle about. Just as they 
let down their feet to alight, he is expected to spring 
up and pour his broadside into them. A boat from 
shore comes and picks up the game, if there is any 
to pick up. 

The club-man, by common consent, was the first 
in the box that morning ; but only a few ducks were 
moving, and he had lain there an hour before we 
marked a solitary bird approaching, and, after cir- 
cling over the decoys, alighting a little beyond them. 
The sportsman sprang up as from the bed of the 
river, and the duck sprang up at the same time, and 
got away, under fire. After a while my other com- 
panion went out; but the ducks passed by on the 
other side, and he had no shots. In the afternoon, 
remembering the robins, and that robins are game 
when one's larder is low, I set out alone for the pine 
bottoms, a mile or more distant. When one is loaded 



WINTER PICTURES. 255 

for robins, he may expect to see turkeys, and vie* 
versa. As I was walking carelessly on the borders 
of an old brambly field that stretched a long distance 
beside the pine-woods, I heard a noise in front of me, 
and, on looking in that direction, saw a veritable tur- 
key, with a spread tail, leaping along at a rapid rate. 
She was so completely the image of the barn-yard 
fowl that I was slow to realize that here was the 
most notable game of that part of Virginia, for the 
sight of which sportsmen's eyes do water. As she 
was fairly on the wing, I sent my robin-shot after 
her ; but they made no impression, and I stood and 
watched with great interest her long, level flight. 
As she neared the end of the clearing, she set her 
wings and sailed straight into the corner of the 
woods. I found no robins, but went back satisfied 
with having seen the turkey, and having had an ex- 
perience that I knew would stir up the envy and the 
disgust of my companions. They listened with ill- 
concealed impatience, stamped the ground a few 
times, uttered a vehement protest against the caprice 
of fortune that always puts the game in the wrong 
place or the gun in the wrong hands, and rushed off 
in quest of that turkey. She was not where they 
looked, of course ; and, on their return about sun- 
down, when they had ceased to think about their 
game she flew out of the top of a pine-tree not thirty 
rods from camp, and in full view; of them, but too 
!ar off for a shot. 

In my wanderings that afternoon, I came upon 



256 WINTER PICTURES. 

two negro shanties in a small triangular clearing in 
the woods ; no road but only a foot-path led to them. 
Three or four children, the eldest a girl of twelve, 
were about the door of one of them. I approached 
and asked for a drink of water. The girl got a glass 
and showed me to the spring near by. 

" We's grandmover's daughter's chilern," she said, 
in reply to my inquiry. Their mother worked in 
Washington for " eighteen cents a month/' and their 
grandmother took care of them. 

Then I thought I would pump her about the nat- 
ural history of the place. 

" What was there in these woods, what kind of 
animals, any ? " 

" Oh yes, sah, when we first come here to live in 
dese bottoms de 'possums and foxes and things were 
so thick you could hardly go out-o'-doors." A fox 
had come along one day right where her mother was 
washing, and they used to catch the chickens " dread- 
ful." 

" Were there any snakes ? " 

" Yes, sah ; black snakes, mocassins, and doctors." 

The doctor, she said, was a powerful ugly cus- 
tomer ; it would get right hold of your leg as you 
were passing along, and whip and sting you to death* 
I hoped I should not meet any " doctors." 

T asked her if they caught any rabbits. 

" Oh yes, we catches dem in ' gums '." 

" What are gums ? " I asked. 

" See dat down dare ? Dat 's a < gum '" 



WINTER PICTURES. 257 

I saw a rude box-trap made of rough boards. It 
aeems these traps, and many other things, such as 
bee-hives, and tubs, etc., are frequently made in the 
South from a hollow gum-tree ; hence the name gum 
has come to have a wide application. 

The ducks flew quite briskly that night ; I could 
hear the whistle of their wings as I stood upon the 
shore indulging myself in listening. The ear loves 
a good field as well as the eye, and the night is the 
best time to listen, to put your ear to nature's key- 
hole and see what the whisperings and the prepara- 
tions mean. 

"Dark night, that from the eye his function takes, 
The ear more quick of apprehension makes," 

says Shakespeare. I overheard some muskrats en- 
gage in a very gentle and affectionate jabber beneath 
a rude pier of brush and earth, upon which I was 
standing. The old, old story was evidently being re- 
hearsed under there, but the occasional splashing of 
the ice-cold water made it seem like very chilling 
business ; still we all know it is not. Our decoys 
had not been brought in, and I distinctly heard some 
ducks splash in among them. The sound of oar-locks 
in the distance next caught my ears. They were so 
far away that it took some time to decide whether 
or not they were approaching. But they finally 
grew more distinct, the steady, measured beat of an 
oar in a wooden lock, a very pleasing sound coming 
over still, moonlit waters. It was an hour before the 
boat emerged into view and passed my post A 
17 



258 WINTER PICTURES. 

white, misty obscurity began to gather over the 
waters, and in the morning this had grown to be a 
dense fog. By early dawn one of my friends was 
again in the box, and presently his gun went bang! 
bang ! then bang ! came again from the second gun he 
had taken with him, and we imagined the water strewn 
with ducks. But he reported only one. It floated 
to him and was picked up, so we need not go out. 
In the dimness and silence we rowed up and down 
the shore in hopes of starting up a stray duck that 
might possibly decoy. We saw many objects that 
simulated ducks pretty well through the obscurity, 
but they failed to take wing on our approach. The 
most pleasing thing we saw was a large, rude boat, 
propelled by four colored oarsmen. It looked as if 
it might have come out of some old picture. Two 
oarsmen were seated in the bows, pulling, and two 
stood up in the stern, facing their companions, each 
working a long oar, bending and recovering and ut- 
tering a low, wild chant. The spectacle emerged 
from the fog on the one hand and plunged into it 
on the other. 

Later in the morning, we were attracted by an 
other craft. We heard it coming down upon us long 
before it emerged into view. It made a sound as 
of some unwieldy creature slowly pawing the water 
and when it became visible through the fog the sight 
did not belie the ear. We beheld an awkward black 
hulk that looked as if it might have been made out o/ 
the bones of the first steamboat, or was it some Vir 



WINTER PICTURES. 259 

giuia colored man's study of that craft ? Its wheels 
consisted each of two timbers crossing each other at 
right angles. As the shaft slowly turned, these tim- 
bers pawed and pa^ed the water. It hove to on the 
flats near our quarters, and a colored man came off 
in a boat. To our inquiry, he said with a grin that 
his craft was a " floating saw-mill." 

After a while I took my turn in the box, and, with 
a life-preserver for a pillow, lay there on my back, 
pressed down between the narrow sides, the muzzle 
of my gun resting upon my toe and its stock upon 
my stomach, waiting for the silly ducks to come. I 
was rather in hopes they would not come, for I felt 
pretty certain that I could not get up promptly in 
such narrow quarters and deliver my shot with any 
precision. As nothing could be seen, and as it was 
very still, it was a good time to listen again. I was 
virtually under water, and in a good medium for the 
transmission of sounds. The barking of dogs on the 
Maryland shore was quite audible, and I heard with 
great distinctness a Maryland lass call some one to 
breakfast. They were astir up at Mount Vernon, 
too, though the fog hid them from view. I heard 
the mocking or Carolina wren along shore calling 
quite plainly the words a Georgetown poet has put 
in his mouth, " Sweet-heart, sweet-heart, sweet ! " 
Presently I heard the whistle of approaching wings, 
and a solitary duck alighted back of me over my right 
shoulder just the most awkward position forme 
she could have assumed. I raised my head a little, 



260 WINTER PICTURES. 

and skimmed the water, with my eye. The duck was 
swimming about just beyond the decoys, apparently 
apprehensive that she was intruding upon the society 
of her betters. She would approach a little, and 
then, as the stiff, aristocratic decoys made no sign of 
welcome or recognition, she would sidle off again. 
u Who are they, that they should hold themselves so 
loftily and never condescend to notice a forlorn 
duck ? " I imagined her saying. Should I spring up 
and show my hand and demand her surrender ? It 
was clearly my duty to do so. I wondered if the 
boys were looking from shore, for the fog had lifted 
a little. But I must act, or the duck would be off. 
I began to turn slowly in my sepulchre and to gather 
up my benumbed limbs ; 1 then made a rush and got 
up, and had a fairly good shot as the duck flew across 
my bows, but I failed to stop her. A man in the 
woods in the line of my shot cried out, angrily, " Stop 
shooting this way ! " 

I laid down again and faced the sun, that had now 
burnt its way through the fog, till I was nearly blind, 
but no more ducks decoyed, and I called out to be 
relieved. 

With our one duck, but with many pleasant re- 
membrances, we returned to Washington that after* 
noon. 



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