But how pitiless is the inevitable change of the next few years! Slowly the bones of the cranium thicken, partly filling up the brain cavity, and slowly but surely the ape loses all affection for those who take care of it. More and more morose and sullen it becomes until it reaches a stage of unchangeable ferocity and must be doomed to close confinement, never again to be handled or caressed.
THE NAMES OF ANIMALS, FROGS, AND FISH
When, during the lazy autumn days, the living creatures seem for a time to have taken themselves completely beyond our ken, it may be interesting to delve among old records and descriptions of animals and see how the names by which we know them first came to be given. Many of our English names have an unsuspected ancestry, which, through past centuries, has been handed down to us through many changes of spelling and meaning, of romantic as well as historical interest.
How many people regard the scientific Latin and Greek names of animals with horror, as being absolutely beyond their comprehension, and yet how interesting these names become when we look them squarely in the face, analyse them and find the appropriateness of their application.
When you say "wolf" to a person, the image of that wild creature comes instantly to his mind, but if you ask him why it is called a wolf, a hundred chances to one he will look blankly at you. It is the old fault, so common among us human beings, of ignoring the things which lie nearest us. Or perhaps your friend shares the state of mind of the puzzled old lady, who, after looking over a collection of fossil bones, said that she could understand how these bones had been preserved, and millions of years later had been discovered, but it was a mystery to her how anyone could know the names of these ancient animals after such a lapse of time!
Some of the names of the commonest animals are lost in the dimness of antiquity, such as fox, weasel, sheep, dog, and baboon. Of the origin of these we have forever lost the clew. With camel we can go no farther back than the Latin word camelus, and elephant balks us with the old Hindoo word eleph, which means an ox. The old root of the word wolf meant one who tears or rends, and the application to this animal is obvious. In several English and German names of persons, we have handed down to us a relic of the old fashion of applying wolf as a compliment to a warrior or soldier. For example, Adolph means noble-wolf, and Rudolph glory-wolf.
Lynx is from the same Latin word as the word lux (light) and probably was given to these wildcats on account of the brightness of their eyes. Lion is, of course, from the Latin leo, which word, in turn, is lost far back in the Egyptian tongue, where the word for the king of beasts was labu. The compound word leopard is first found in the Persian language, where pars stands for panther. Seal, very appropriately, was once a word meaning "of the sea"; close to the Latin sal, the sea.
Many names of animals are adapted from words in the ancient language of the natives in whose country the creatures were first discovered. Puma, jaguar, tapir, and peccary (from paquires) are all names from South American Indian languages. The coyote and ocelot were called coyotl and ocelotl by the Mexicans long before Cortes landed on their shores. Zebra, gorilla, and chimpanzee are native African words, and orang-utan is Malay, meaning Man of the Woods. Cheetah is from some East Indian tongue, as is tahr, the name of the wild goat of the Himalayas. Gnu is from the Hottentots, and giraffe from the Arabic zaraf. Aoudad, the Barbary wild sheep, is the French form of the Moorish name audad.
The native Indians of our own country are passing rapidly, and before many years their race may be extinct, but their musical, euphonious names of the animals they knew so well, often pleased the ear of the early settlers, and in many instances will be a lasting memorial as long as these forest creatures of our United States survive.
Thus, moose is from the Indian word mouswah, meaning wood-eater; skunk from seganku, an Algonquin term; wapiti, in the Cree language, meant white deer, and was originally applied to the Rocky Mountain goat, but the name is now restricted to the American elk. Caribou is also an Indian word; opossum is from possowne, and raccoon is from the Indian arrathkune (by further apheresis, coon).
Rhinoceros is pure Greek, meaning nose-horned, but beaver has indeed had a rough time of it in its travels through various languages. It is hardly recognisable as bebrus, babbru, and bbru. The latter is the ultimate root of our word brown. The original application was, doubtless, on account of the colour of the creature's fur. Otter takes us back to Sanskrit, where we find it udra. The significance of this word is in its close kinship to udan, meaning water.
The little mouse hands his name down through the years from the old, old Sanskrit, the root meaning to steal. Many people who never heard of Sanskrit have called him and his descendants by terms of homologous significance! The word muscle is from the same root, and was applied from a fancied resemblance of the movement of the muscle beneath the skin to a mouse in motion—not a particularly quieting thought to certain members of the fair sex! The origin of the word rat is less certain, but it may have been derived from the root of the Latin word radere, to scratch, or rodere, to gnaw. Rodent is derived from the latter term. Cat is also in doubt, but is first recognised in catalus, a diminutive of canis, a dog. It was applied to the young of almost any animal, as we use the words pup, kitten, cub, and so forth. Bear is the result of tongue-twisting from the Latin fera, a wild beast.
Ape is from the Sanskrit kapi; kap in the same language means tremble; but the connection is not clear. Lemur, the name given to that low family of monkeys, is from the plural Latin word lemures, meaning ghost or spectre. This has reference to the nocturnal habits, stealthy gait, and weird expression of these large-eyed creatures. Antelope is probably of Grecian origin, and was originally applied to a half-mythical animal, located on the banks of the Euphrates, and described as "very savage and fleet, and having long, saw-like horns with which it could cut down trees. It figures largely in the peculiar fauna of heraldry."
Deer is of obscure origin, but may have been an adjective meaning wild. Elk is derived from the same root as eland, and the history of the latter word is an interesting one. It meant a sufferer, and was applied by the Teutons to the elk of the Old World on account of the awkward gait and stiff movements of this ungainly animal. But in later years the Dutch carried the same word, eland, to South Africa, and there gave it to the largest of the tribe of antelopes, in which sense it is used by zoologists to-day.
Porcupine has arisen from two Latin words, porcus, a hog, and spina, a spine; hence, appropriately, a spiny-hog. Buffalo may once have been some native African name. In the vista of time, our earliest glimpse of it is as bubalus, which was applied both to the wild ox and to a species of African antelope. Fallow deer is from fallow, meaning pale, or yellowish, while axis, as applied to the deer so common in zoological gardens, was first mentioned by Pliny and is doubtless of East Indian origin. The word bison is from the Anglo-Saxon wesend, but beyond Pliny its ultimate origin eludes all research.
Marmot, through various distortions, looms up from Latin times as mus montanus, literally a mountain mouse. Badger is from badge, in allusion to the bands of white fur on its forehead. The verb meaning to badger is derived from the old cruel sport of baiting badgers with dogs.
Monkey is from the same root as monna, a woman; more especially an old crone, in reference to the fancied resemblance of the weazened face of a monkey to that of a withered old woman. Madam and madonna are other forms of words from the same root, so wide and sweeping are the changes in meaning which usage and time can give to words.
Squirrel has a poetic origin in the Greek language; its original meaning being shadow-tail. Tiger is far more intricate. The old Persian word tir meant arrow, while tighra signified sharp. The application to this great animal was in allusion to the swiftness with which the tiger leaps upon his prey. The river Tigris, meaning literally the river Arrow, is named thus from the swiftness of its current.
As to the names of reptiles it is, of course, to the Romans that we are chiefly indebted, as in the case of reptile from reptilus, meaning creeping; and crocodile from dilus, a lizard. Serpent is also from the Latin serpens, creeping, and this from the old Sanskrit root, sarp, with the same meaning. This application of the idea of creeping is again found in the word snake, which originally came from the Sanskrit naga.
Tortoise harks back to the Latin tortus, meaning twisted (hence our word tortuous) and came to be applied to these slow creatures because of their twisted legs. In its evolution through many tongues it has suffered numbers of variations; one of these being turtle, which we use to-day to designate the smaller land tortoises. Terrapin and its old forms terrapene and turpin, on the contrary, originated in the New World, in the language of the American Redskin.
Cobra-de-capello is Portuguese for hooded snake, while python is far older, the same word being used by the Greeks to denote a spirit, demon, or evil-soothsayer. This name was really given to designate any species of large serpent. Boa is Latin and was also applied to a large snake, while the importance of the character of size is seen, perhaps, in our words bos and bovine.
The word viper is interesting; coming directly from the Romans, who wrote it vipera. This in turn is a contraction of the feminine form of the adjective vivipera, in reference to the habit of these snakes of bringing forth their young alive.
Lizard, through such forms as lesarde, lezard, lagarto, lacerto, is from the Latin lacertus, a lizard; while closely related is the word alligator by way of lagarto, aligarto, to alligator. The prefix may have arisen as a corruption of an article and a noun, as in the modern Spanish el lagarto,—a lizard.
Monitor is Latin for one who reminds, these lizards being so called because they are supposed to give warning of the approach of crocodiles. Asp can be carried back to the aspis of the Romans, no trace being found in the dim vistas of preceding tongues.
Gecko, the name of certain wall-hunting lizards, is derived from their croaking cry; while iguana is a Spanish name taken from the old native Haytian appellation biuana.
Of the word frog we know nothing, although through the medium of many languages it has had as thorough an evolution as in its physical life. We must also admit our ignorance in regard to toad, backward search revealing only tade, tode, ted, toode, and tadie, the root baffling all study. Polliwog and tadpole are delightfully easy. Old forms of polliwog are pollywig, polewiggle, and pollwiggle. This last gives us the clew to our spelling—pollwiggle, which, reversed and interpreted in a modern way, is wigglehead, a most appropriate name for these lively little black fellows. Tadpole is somewhat similar; toad-pole, or toad's-head, also very apt when we think of these small-bodied larval forms.
Salamander, which is a Greek word of Eastern origin, was applied in the earliest times to a lizard considered to have the power of extinguishing fire. Newt has a strange history; originating in a wrong division of two words, "an ewte," the latter being derived from eft, which is far more correct than newt, though in use now in only a few places. Few fishermen have ever thought of the interesting derivation of the names which they know so well. Of course there are a host of fishes named from a fancied resemblance to familiar terrestrial animals or other things; such as the catfish, and those named after the dog, hog, horse, cow, trunk, devil, angel, sun, and moon.
The word fish has passed through many varied forms since it was piscis in the old Latin tongue, and the same is true of shark and skate, which in the same language were carcharus and squatus. Trout was originally tructa, which in turn is lost in a very old Greek word, meaning eat or gnaw. Perch harks back to the Latin perca, and the Romans had it from the Greeks, among whom it meant spotted. The Romans said minutus when they meant small, and nowadays when we speak of any very small fish we say minnow. Alewife in old English was applied to the women, usually very stout dames, who kept alehouses. The corpulency of the fish to which the same term is given explains its derivation.
The pike is so named from the sharp, pointed snout and long, slim body, bringing to mind the old-time weapon of that name; while pickerel means doubly a little pike, the er and el (as in cock and cockerel) both being diminutives. Smelt was formerly applied to any small fish and comes, perhaps, from the Anglo-Saxon smeolt, which meant smooth—the smoothness and slipperiness of the fish suggesting the name.
Salmon comes directly from the Latin salmo, a salmon, which literally meant the leaper, from salire—to leap. Sturgeon, from the Saxon was stiriga, literally a stirrer, from the habit of the fish of stirring up the mud at the bottom of the water. Dace, through its mediaeval forms darce and dars, is from the same root as our word dart, given on account of the swiftness of the fish.
Anchovy is interesting as perhaps from the Basque word antzua, meaning dry; hence the dried fish; and mullet is from the Latin mullus. Herring is well worth following back to its origin. We know that the most marked habit of fishes of this type is their herding together in great schools or masses or armies. In the very high German heri meant an army or host; hence our word harry and, with a suffix, herring.
Hake in Norwegian means hook, and the term hake or hook-fish was given because of the hooked character of the under-jaw. Mackerel comes from macarellus and originally the Latin macula—spotted, from the dark spots on the body. Roach and ray both come from the Latin raria, applied then as in the latter case now to bottom-living sharks.
Flounder comes from the verb, which in turn is derived from flounce, a word which is lost in antiquity. Tarpon (and the form tarpum) may be an Indian word; while there is no doubt as to grouper coming from garrupa, a native Mexican name. Chubb (a form of cub) meant a chunky mass or lump, referring to the body of the fish. Shad is lost in sceadda, Anglo-Saxon for the same fish.
Lamprey and halibut both have histories, which, at first glance, we would never suspect, although the forms have changed but little. The former have a habit of fastening themselves for hours to stones and rocks, by means of their strong, sucking mouths. So the Latin form of the word lampetra, or literally lick-rock, is very appropriate. Halibut is equally so. But or bot in several languages means a certain flounder-like fish, and in olden times this fish was eaten only on holidays (i.e., holy days). Hence the combination halibut means really holy-flounder.
The meaning of these words and many others are worth knowing, and it is well to be able to answer with other than ignorance the question "What's in a name?"
THE DYING YEAR
When a radical change of habits occurs, as in the sapsucker, deviating so sharply from the ancient principles of its family, many other forms of life about it are influenced, indirectly, but in a most interesting way. In its tippling operations it wastes quantities of sap which exudes from the numerous holes and trickles down the bark of the wounded tree. This proves a veritable feast for the forlorn remnant of wasps and butterflies,—the year's end stragglers whose flower calyces have fallen and given place to swelling seeds.
Swiftly up wind they come on the scent, eager as hounds on the trail, and they drink and drink of the sweets until they become almost incapable of flying. But, after all, the new lease of life is a vain semblance of better things. Their eggs have long since been laid and their mission in life ended, and at the best their existence is but a matter of days.
It is a sad thing this, and sometimes our heart hardens against Nature for the seeming cruelty of it all. Forever and always, year after year, century upon century, the same tale unfolds itself,—the sacrifice of the individual for the good of the race. A hundred drones are tended and reared, all but one to die in vain; a thousand seeds are sown to rot or to sprout and wither; a million little codfish hatch and begin life hopefully, perhaps all to succumb save one; a million million shrimp and pteropods paddle themselves here and there in the ocean, and every one is devoured by fish or swept into the whalebone tangle from which none ever return. And if a lucky one which survives does so because it has some little advantage over its fellows,—some added quality which gives just the opportunity to escape at the critical moment,—then the race will advance to the extent of that trifle and so carry out the precept of evolution. But even though we may owe every character of body and mind to the fulfilment of some such inexorable law in the past, yet the witnessing of the operation brings ever a feeling of cruelty, of injustice somewhere.
How pitiful the weak flight of the last yellow butterfly of the year, as with tattered and battered wings it vainly seeks for a final sip of sweets! The fallen petals and the hard seeds are black and odourless, the drops of sap are hardened. Little by little the wings weaken, the tiny feet clutch convulsively at a dried weed stalk, and the four golden wings drift quietly down among the yellow leaves, soon to merge into the dark mould beneath. As the butterfly dies, a stiffened Katydid scratches a last requiem on his wing covers—"katy-didn't—katy-did—kate—y"—and the succeeding moment of silence is broken by the sharp rattle of a woodpecker. We shake off every dream of the summer and brace ourselves to meet and enjoy the keen, invigorating pleasures of winter.
NOVEMBER'S BIRDS OF THE HEAVENS
As the whirling winds of winter's edge strip the trees bare of their last leaves, the leaden sky of the eleventh month seems to push its cold face closer to earth. Who can tell when the northern sparrows first arrive? A whirl of brown leaves scatters in front of us; some fall back to earth; others rise and perch in the thick briers,—sombre little white-throated and tree sparrows! These brown-coated, low-voiced birds easily attract our attention, the more now that the great host of brilliant warblers has passed, just as our hearts warm toward the humble poly-pody fronds (passing them by unnoticed when flowers are abundant) which now hold up their bright greenness amid all the cold.
But all the migrants have not left us yet by any means, and we had better leave our boreal visitors until mid-winter's blasts show us these hardiest of the hardy at their best.
We know little of the ways of the gaunt herons on their southward journey, but day after day, in the marshes and along the streams, we may see the great blues as they stop in their flight to rest for a time.
The cold draws all the birds of a species together. Dark hordes of clacking grackles pass by, scores of red-winged blackbirds and cowbirds mingle amicably together, both of dark hue but of such unlike matrimonial habits. A single male red-wing, as we have seen, may assume the cares of a harem of three, four, or five females, each of which rears her brown-streaked offspring in her own particular nest, while the valiant guardian keeps faithful watch over his small colony among the reeds and cat-tails. But little thought or care does mother cowbird waste upon her offspring. No home life is hers—merely a stealthy approach to the nest of some unsuspecting yellow warbler, or other small bird, a hastily deposited egg, and the unnatural parent goes on her way, having shouldered all her household cares on another. Her young may be hatched and carefully reared by the patient little warbler mother, or the egg may spoil in the deserted nest, or be left in the cold beneath another nest bottom built over it; little cares the cowbird.
The ospreys or fish hawks seem to circle southward in pairs or trios, but some clear, cold day the sky will be alive with hawks of other kinds. It is a strange fact that these birds which have the power to rise so high that they fairly disappear from our sight choose the trend of terrestrial valleys whenever possible, in directing their aerial routes. Even the series of New Jersey hills, flattered by the name of the Orange Mountains, seem to balk many hawks which elect to change their direction and fly to the right or left toward certain gaps or passes. Through these a raptorial stream pours in such numbers during the period of migration that a person with a foreknowledge of their path in former years may lie in wait and watch scores upon scores of these birds pass close overhead within a few hours, while a short distance to the right or left one may watch all day without seeing a single raptor. The whims of migrating birds are beyond our ken.
Sometimes, out in the broad fields, one's eyes will be drawn accidentally upward, and a great flight of hawks will be seen—a compact flock of intercircling forms, perhaps two or three hundred in all, the whole number gradually passing from view in a southerly direction, now and then sending down a shrill cry. It is a beautiful sight, not very often to be seen near a city—unless watched for.
To a dweller in a city or its suburbs I heartily commend at this season the forming of this habit,—to look upward as often as possible on your walks. An instant suffices to sweep the whole heavens with your eye, and if the distant circling forms, moving in so stately a manner, yet so swiftly, and in their every movement personifying the essence of wild and glorious freedom,—if this sight does not send a thrill through the onlooker, then he may at once pull his hat lower over his eyes and concern himself only with his immediate business. The joys of Nature are not for such as he; the love of the wild which exists in every one of us is, in him, too thickly "sicklied o'er" with the veneer of convention and civilisation.
Even as late as November, when the water begins to freeze in the tiny cups of the pitcher plants, and the frost brings into being a new kind of foliage on glass and stone, a few insect-eaters of the summer woods still linger on. A belated red-eyed vireo may be chased by a snowbird, and when we approach a flock of birds, mistaking them at a distance for purple finches, we may discover they are myrtle warblers, clad in the faded yellow of their winter plumage. In favoured localities these brave little birds may even spend the entire winter with us.
One of the best of November's surprises may come when all hope of late migrants has been given up. Walking near the river, our glance falls on what might be a painter's palate with blended colours of all shades resting on the smooth surface of the water. We look again and again, hardly believing our eyes, until at last the gorgeous creature takes to wing, and goes humming down the stream, a bit of colour tropical in its extravagance—and we know that we have seen a male wood, or summer, duck in the full grandeur of his white, purple, chestnut, black, blue, and brown. Many other ducks have departed, but this one still swims among the floating leaves on secluded waterways.
Now is the time when the woodcock rises from his swampy summer home and zigzags his way to a land where earthworms are still active. Sometimes in our walks we may find the fresh body of one of these birds, and an upward glance at the roadside will show the cause—the cruel telegraph wires against which the flight of the bird has carried it with fatal velocity.
One of the greatest pleasures which November has to give us is the joy of watching for the long lines of wild geese from the Canada lakes. Who can help being thrilled at the sight of these strong-winged birds, as the V-shaped flock throbs into view high in air, beating over land and water, forest and city, as surely and steadily as the passing of the day behind them. One of the finest of November sounds is the "Honk! honk!" which comes to our ears from such a company of geese,—musical tones "like a clanking chain drawn through the heavy air."
At the stroke of midnight I have been halted in my hurried walk by these notes. They are a bit of the wild north which may even enter within a city, and three years ago I trapped a fine gander and a half a dozen of his flock in the New York Zoological Park, where they have lived ever since and reared their golden-hued goslings, which otherwise would have broken their shells on some Arctic waste, with only the snowbirds to admire, and to be watched with greedy eyes by the Arctic owls.
A haze on the far horizon, The infinite tender sky, The ripe, rich tints of the cornfields, And the wild geese sailing high; And ever on upland and lowland, The charm of the goldenrod— Some of us call it Autumn, And others call it God. W. H. Carruth.
A PLEA FOR THE SKUNK
In spite of constant persecution the skunk is without doubt the tamest of all of our wild animals, and shares with the weasel and mink the honour of being one of the most abundant of the carnivores, or flesh-eaters, near our homes. This is a great achievement for the skunk,—to have thus held its own in the face of ever advancing and destroying civilisation. But the same characteristics which enable it to hold its ground are also those which emancipate it from its wild kindred and give it a unique position among animals. Its first cousins, the minks and weasels, all secrete pungent odours, which are unpleasant enough at close range, but in the skunk the great development of these glands has caused a radical change in its habits of life and even in its physical make-up.
Watch a mink creeping on its sinuous way,—every action and glance full of fierce wildness, each step telling of insatiable seeking after living, active prey. The boldest rat flees in frantic terror at the hint of this animal's presence; but let man show himself, and with a demoniacal grin of hatred the mink slinks into covert.
Now follow a skunk in its wanderings as it comes out of its hole in early evening, slowly stretches and yawns, and with hesitating, rolling gait ambles along, now and then sniffing in the grass and seizing some sluggish grasshopper or cricket. Fearlessness and confidence are what its gait and manner spell. The world is its debtor, and all creatures in its path are left unmolested, only on evidence of good behaviour. Far from need of concealment, its furry coat is striped with a broad band of white, signalling in the dusk or the moonlight, "Give me room to pass and go in peace! Trouble me and beware!"
Degenerate in muscles and vitality, the skunk must forego all strenuous hunts and trust to craft and sudden springs, or else content himself with the humble fare of insects, helpless young birds, and poor, easily confused mice. The flesh of the skunk is said to be sweet and toothsome, but few creatures there are who dare attempt to add it to their bill of fare! A great horned owl or a puma in the extremity of starvation, or a vulture in dire stress of hunger,—probably no others.
Far from wilfully provoking an attack, the skunk is usually content to go on his way peacefully, and when one of these creatures becomes accustomed to the sight of an observer, no more interesting and, indeed, safer object of study can be found.
Depart once from the conventional mode of greeting a skunk,—and instead of hurling a stone in its direction and fleeing, place, if the opportunity present itself, bits of meat in its way evening after evening, and you will soon learn that there is nothing vicious in the heart of the skunk. The evening that the gentle animal appears leading in her train a file of tiny infant skunks, you will feel well repaid for the trouble you have taken. Baby skunks, like their elders, soon learn to know their friends, and are far from being at hair-trigger poise, as is generally supposed.
THE LESSON OF THE WAVE
The sea and the sky and the shore were at perfect peace on the day when the young gull first launched into the air, and flew outward over the green, smooth ocean. Day after day his parents had brought him fish and squid, until his baby plumage fell from him and his beautiful wing-feathers shot forth,—clean-webbed and elastic. His strong feet had carried him for days over the expanse of sand dunes and pebbles, and now and then he had paddled into deep pools and bathed in the cold salt water. Most creatures of the earth are limited to one or the other of these two elements, but now the gull was proving his mastery over a third. The land, the sea, were left below, and up into the air drifted the beautiful bird, every motion confident with the instinct of ages.
The usefulness of his mother's immaculate breast now becomes apparent. A school of small fish basking near the surface rise and fall with the gentle undulating swell, seeing dimly overhead the blue sky, flecked with hosts of fleecy white clouds. A nearer, swifter cloud approaches, hesitates, splashes into their midst,—and the parent gull has caught her first fish of the day. Instinctively the young bird dives; in his joy of very life he cries aloud,—the gull-cry which his ancestors of long ago have handed down to him. At night he seeks the shore and tucks his bill into his plumage; and all because of something within him, compelling him to do these things.
But far from being an automaton, his bright eye and full-rounded head presage higher things. Occasionally his mind breaks through the mist of instinct and reaches upward to higher activity.
As with the other wild kindred of the ocean, food was the chief object of the day's search. Fish were delicious, but were not always to be had; crabs were a treat indeed, when caught unawares, but for mile after mile along the coast were hosts of mussels and clams,—sweet and lucious, but incased in an armour of shell, through which there was no penetrating. However swift a dash was made upon one of these,—always the clam closed a little quicker, sending a derisive shower of drops over the head of the gull.
Once, after a week of rough weather, the storm gods brought their battling to a climax. Great green walls of foaming water crashed upon the rocks, rending huge boulders and sucking them down into the black depths. Over and through the spray dashed the gull, answering the wind's howl—shriek for shriek, poising over the fearful battlefield of sea and shore.
A wave mightier than all hung and curved, and a myriad shell-fish were torn from their sheltered nooks and hurled high, in air, to fall broken and helpless among the boulders. The quick eye of the gull saw it all, and at that instant of intensest chaos of the elements, the brain of the bird found itself.
Shortly afterward came night and sleep, but the new-found flash of knowledge was not lost.
The next day the bird walked at low tide into the stronghold of the shell-fish, roughly tore one from the silky strands of its moorings, and carrying it far upward let it fall at random among the rocks. The toothsome morsel was snatched from its crushed shell and a triumphant scream told of success,—a scream which, could it have been interpreted, should have made a myriad, myriad mussels shrink within their shells!
From gull to gull, and from flock to flock, the new habit spread, imitation taking instant advantage of this new source of food. When to-day we walk along the shore and see flocks of gulls playing ducks and drakes with the unfortunate shell-fish, give them not too much credit, but think of some bird which in the long ago first learned the lesson, whether by chance or, as I have suggested, by observing the victims of the waves.
* * * * *
No scientific facts are these, but merely a logical reasoning deduced from the habits and traits of the birds as we know them to-day; a theory to hold in mind while we watch for its confirmation in the beginning of other new and analogous habits.
The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! This sea that bares her bosom to the moon, The winds that will be howling at all hours, And are up-gather'd now like sleeping flowers; For this, for everything, we are out of tune; It moves us not.—Great God! I'd rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. William Wordsworth.
WE GO A-SPONGING
When a good compound microscope becomes as common an object in our homes as is a clock or a piano, we may be certain that the succeeding generation will grow up with a much broader view of life and a far greater realisation of the beauties of the natural world. To most of us a glance through a microscope is almost as unusual a sight as the panorama from a balloon. While many of the implements of a scientist arouse enthusiasm only in himself, in the case of the revelations of this instrument, the average person, whatever his profession, cannot fail to be interested.
Many volumes have been written on the microscopic life of ponds and fields, and in a short essay only a hint of the delights of this fascinating study can be given.
Any primer of Natural History will tell us that our bath sponges are the fibrous skeletons of aquatic animals which inhabit tropical seas, but few people know that in the nearest pond there are real sponges, growing sometimes as large as one's head and which are not very dissimilar to those taken from among the corals of the Bahamas. We may bring home a twig covered with a thick growth of this sponge; and by dropping a few grains of carmine into the water, the currents which the little sponge animals set up are plainly visible. In winter these all die, and leave within their meshes numbers of tiny winter buds, which survive the cold weather and in the spring begin to found new colonies. If we examine the sponges in the late fall we may find innumerable of these statoblasts, as they are called.
Scattered among them will sometimes be crowds of little wheels, surrounded with double-ended hooks. These have no motion and we shall probably pass them by as minute burrs or seeds of some water plant. But they, too, are winter buds of a strange group of tiny animals. These are known as Polyzoans or Bryozoans; and though to the eye a large colony of them appears only as a mass of thick jelly, yet when placed in water and left quiet, a wonderful transformation comes over the bit of gelatine.... "Perhaps while you gaze at the reddish jelly a pink little projection appears within the field of your lens, and slowly lengthens and broadens, retreating and reappearing, it may be, many times, but finally, after much hesitation, it suddenly seems to burst into bloom. A narrow body, so deeply red that it is often almost crimson, lifts above the jelly a crescentic disc ornamented with two rows of long tentacles that seem as fine as hairs, and they glisten and sparkle like lines of crystal as they wave and float and twist the delicate threads beneath your wondering gaze. Then, while you scarcely breathe, for fear the lovely vision will fade, another and another spreads its disc and waves its silvery tentacles, until the whole surface of that ugly jelly mass blooms like a garden in Paradise—blooms not with motionless perianths, but with living animals, the most exquisite that God has allowed to develop in our sweet waters." At the slightest jar every animal-flower vanishes instantly.
A wonderful history is behind these little creatures and very different from that of most members of the animal kingdom. While crabs, butterflies, and birds have evolved through many and varied ancestral forms, the tiny Bryozoans, or, being interpreted, moss-animals, seem throughout all past ages to have found a niche for themselves where strenuous and active competition is absent. Year after year, century upon century, age upon age, they have lived and died, almost unchanged down to the present day. When you look at the tiny animal, troubling the water and drawing its inconceivably small bits of food toward it upon the current made by its tentacles, think of the earth changes which it has survived.
To the best of our knowledge the Age of Man is but a paltry fifty thousand years. Behind this the Age of Mammals may have numbered three millions; then back of these came the Age of Reptiles with more than seven millions of years, during all of which time the tentacles of unnumbered generations of Bryozoans waved in the sea. Back, back farther still we add another seven million years, or thereabouts, of the Age of the Amphibians, when the coal plants grew, and the Age of the Fishes. And finally, beyond all exact human calculation, but estimated at some five million, we reach the Age of Invertebrates in the Silurian, and in the lowest of these rocks we find beautifully preserved fossils of Bryozoans, to all appearances as perfect in detail of structure as these which we have before us to-day in this twentieth century of man's brief reckoning.
These tiny bits of jelly are transfigured as well by the grandeur of their unchanged lineage as by the appearance of the little animals from within. What heraldry can commemorate the beginning of their race over twenty millions of years in the past!
The student of mythology will feel at home when identifying some of the commonest objects of the pond. And most are well named, too, as for instance the Hydra, a small tube-shaped creature with a row of active tentacles at one end. Death seems far from this organism, which is closely related to the sea-anemones and corals, for though a very brief drying will serve to kill it, yet it can be sliced and cut as finely as possible and each bit, true to its name, will at once proceed to grow a new head and tentacles complete, becoming a perfect animal.
Then we shall often come across a queer creature with two oar-like feelers near the head and a double tail tipped with long hairs, while in the centre of the head is a large, shining eye,—Cyclops he is rightly called. Although so small that we can make out little of his structure without the aid of the lens, yet Cyclops is far from being related to the other still smaller beings which swim about him, many of which consist of but one cell and are popularly known as animalculae, more correctly as Protozoans. Cyclops has a jointed body and in many other ways shows his relationship to crabs and lobsters, even though they are many times larger and live in salt water.
Another member of this group is Daphnia, although the appropriateness of this name yet remains to be discovered; Daphnia being a chunky-bodied little being, with a double-branched pair of oar-like appendages, with which he darts swiftly through the water. Although covered with a hard crust like a crab, this is so transparent that we can see right through his body. The dark mass of food in the stomach and the beating heart are perfectly distinct. Often, near the upper part of the body, several large eggs are seen in a sort of pouch, where they are kept until hatched.
So if the sea is far away and time hangs heavy, invite your friends to go sponging and crabbing in the nearest pond, and you may be certain of quieting their fears as to your sanity as well as drawing exclamations of delight from them when they see these beautiful creatures for the first time.
NEW THOUGHTS ABOUT NESTS
Our sense of smell is not so keen as that of a dog, who can detect the tiny quail while they are still invisible; nor have we the piercing sight of the eagle who spies the grouse crouching hundreds of feet beneath his circling flight; but when we walk through the bare December woods there is unfolded at last to our eyes evidence of the late presence of our summer's feathered friends—air castles and tree castles of varied patterns and delicate workmanship.
Did it ever occur to you to think what the first nest was like—what home the first reptile-like scale flutterers chose? Far back before Jurassic times, millions of years ago, before the coming of bony fishes, when the only mammals were tiny nameless creatures, hardly larger than mice; when the great Altantosaurus dinosaurs browsed on the quaint herbage, and Pterodactyls—those ravenous bat-winged dragons of the air—hovered above the surface of the earth,—in this epoch we can imagine a pair of long-tailed, half-winged creatures which skimmed from tree to tree, perhaps giving an occasional flop—the beginning of the marvellous flight motions. Is it not likely that the Teleosaurs who watched hungrily from the swamps saw them disappear at last in a hollowed cavity beneath a rotten knothole? Here, perhaps, the soft-shelled, lizard-like eggs were laid, and when they gave forth the ugly creaturelings did not Father Creature flop to the topmost branch and utter a gurgling cough, a most unpleasant grating sound, but grand in its significance, as the opening chord in the symphony of the ages to follow?—until now the mockingbird and the nightingale hold us spellbound by the wonder of their minstrelsy.
Turning from our imaginary picture of the ancient days, we find that some of the birds of the present time have found a primitive way of nesting still the best. If we push over this rotten stump we shall find that the cavity near the top, where the wood is still sound, has been used the past summer by the downy woodpecker—a front door like an auger hole, ceiling of rough-hewn wood, a bed of chips!
The chickadee goes a step further, and shows his cleverness in sometimes choosing a cavity already made, and instead of rough, bare chips, the six or eight chickadee youngsters are happy on a hair mattress of a closely woven felt-like substance.
Perhaps we should consider the kingfisher the most barbarous of all the birds which form a shelter for their home. With bill for pick and shovel, she bores straight into a sheer clay bank, and at the end of a six-foot tunnel her young are reared, their nest a mass of fish bones—the residue of their dinners. Then there are the aerial masons and brickmakers—the eave swallows, who carry earth up into the air, bit by bit, and attach it to the eaves, forming it into a globular, long-necked flask. The barn swallows mix the clay with straw and feathers and so form very firm structures on the rafters above the haymows.
But what of the many nests of grasses and twigs which we find in the woods? How closely they were concealed while the leaves were on the trees, and how firm and strong they were while in use, the strongest wind and rain of summer only rocking them to and fro! But now we must waste no time or they will disappear. In a month or more almost all will have dissolved into fragments and fallen to earth—their mission accomplished.
Some look as if disintegration had already begun, but if we had discovered them earlier in the year, we should have seen that they were never less fragile or loosely constructed than we find them now. Such is a cuckoo's nest, such a mourning dove's or a heron's; merely a flat platform of a few interlaced twigs, through which the eggs are visible from below. Why, we ask, are some birds so careless or so unskilful? The European cuckoo, like our cowbird, is a parasite, laying her eggs in the nests of other birds; so, perhaps, neglect of household duties is in the blood. But this style of architecture seems to answer all the requirements of doves and herons, and, although with one sweep of the hand we can demolish one of these flimsy platforms, yet such a nest seems somehow to resist wind and rain just as long as the bird needs it.
Did you ever try to make a nest yourself? If not, sometime take apart a discarded nest—even the simplest in structure—and try to put it together again. Use no string or cord, but fasten it to a crotch, put some marbles in it and visit it after the first storm. After you have picked up all the marbles from the ground you will appreciate more highly the skill which a bird shows in the construction of its home. Whether a bird excavates its nest in earth or wood, or weaves or plasters it, the work is all done by means of two straight pieces of horn—the bill.
There is, however, one useful substance which aids the bird—the saliva which is formed in the mucous glands of the mouth. Of course the first and natural function of this fluid is to soften the food before it passes into the crop; but in those birds which make their nests by weaving together pieces of twig, it must be of great assistance in softening the wood and thus enabling the bird readily to bend the twigs into any required position. Thus the catbird and rose-breasted grosbeak weave.
Given a hundred or more pieces of twigs, each an inch in length, even a bird would make but little progress in forming a cup-shaped nest, were it not that the sticky saliva provided cement strong and ready at hand. So the chimney swift finds no difficulty in forming and attaching her mosaic of twigs to a chimney, using only very short twigs which she breaks off with her feet while she is on the wing.
How wonderfully varied are the ways which birds adopt to conceal their nests. Some avoid suspicion by their audacity, building near a frequented path, in a spot which they would never be suspected of choosing. The hummingbird studs the outside of its nest with lichens, and the vireo drapes a cobweb curtain around her fairy cup. Few nests are more beautiful and at the same time more durable than a vireo's. I have seen the nests of three successive years in the same tree, all built, no doubt, by the same pair of birds, the nest of the past summer perfect in shape and quality, that of the preceding year threadbare, while the home which sheltered the brood of three summers ago is a mere flattened skeleton, reminding one of the ribs and stern post of a wrecked boat long pounded by the waves.
The subject of nests has been sadly neglected by naturalists, most of whom have been chiefly interested in the owners or the contents; but when the whys and wherefores of the homes of birds are made plain we shall know far more concerning the little carpenters, weavers, masons, and basket-makers who hang our groves and decorate our shrubbery with their skill. When on our winter's walk we see a distorted, wind-torn, grass cup, think of the quartet of beautiful little creatures, now flying beneath some tropical sun, which owe their lives to the nest, and which, if they are spared, will surely return to the vicinity next summer.
That time of year thou may'st in me behold, When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,— Bare, ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. SHAKESPEARE.
LESSONS FROM AN ENGLISH SPARROW
Many people say they love Nature, but as they have little time to go into the country they have to depend on books for most of their information concerning birds, flowers, and other forms of life. There is, however, no reason why one should not, even in the heart of a great city, begin to cultivate his powers of observation. Let us take, for example, the omnipresent English sparrow. Most of us probably know the difference between the male and female English sparrows, but I venture to say that not one in ten persons could give a satisfactory description of the colours of either. How much we look and how little we really see!
Little can be said in favour of the English sparrows' disposition, but let us not blame them for their unfortunate increase in numbers. Man brought them from England, where they are kept in check by Nature's wise laws. These birds were deliberately introduced where Nature was not prepared for them.
When we put aside prejudice we can see that the male bird, especially when in his bright spring colours, is really very attractive, with his ashy gray head, his back streaked with black and bay, the white bar on his wings and the jet black chin and throat contrasting strongly with the uniformly light-coloured under parts. If this were a rare bird the "black-throated sparrow" would enjoy his share of admiration.
It is wonderful how he can adapt himself to new conditions, nesting anywhere and everywhere, and this very adaptation is a sign of a very high order of intelligence. He has, however, many characteristics which tell us of his former life. A few of the habits of this bird may be misleading. His thick, conical bill is made for crushing seeds, but he now feeds on so many different substances that its original use, as shown by its shape, is obscured. If there were such a thing as vaudeville among birds, the common sparrow would be a star imitator. He clings to the bark of trees and picks out grubs, supporting himself with his tail like a woodpecker; he launches out into the air, taking insects on the wing like a flycatcher; he clings like a chickadee to the under side of twigs, or hovers in front of a heap of insect eggs, presenting a feeble imitation of a hummingbird. These modes of feeding represent many different families of birds.
Although his straw and feather nests are shapeless affairs, and he often feeds on garbage, all aesthetic feeling is not lost, as we see when he swells out his black throat and white cravat, spreads tail and wing and beseeches his lady-love to admire him. Thus he woos her as long as he is alone, but when several other eager suitors arrive, his patience gives out, and the courting turns into a football game. Rough and tumble is the word, but somehow in the midst of it all, her highness manages to make her mind known and off she flies with the lucky one. Thus we have represented, in the English sparrows, the two extremes of courtship among birds.
It is worth noting that the male alone is ornamented, the colours of the female being much plainer. This dates from a time when it was necessary for the female to be concealed while sitting on the eggs. The young of both sexes are coloured like their mother, the young males not acquiring the black gorget until perfectly able to take care of themselves. About the plumage there are some interesting facts. The young bird moults twice before the first winter. The second moult brings out the mark on the throat, but it is rusty now, not black in colour; his cravat is grayish and the wing bar ashy. In the spring, however, a noticeable change takes place, but neither by the moulting nor the coming in of plumage. The shaded edges of the feathers become brittle and break off, bringing out the true colours and making them clear and brilliant. The waistcoat is brushed until it is black and glossy, the cravat becomes immaculate, and the wristband or wing bar clears up until it is pure white.
The homes of these sparrows are generally composed of a great mass of straw and feathers, with the nest in the centre; but the spotted eggs, perhaps, show that these birds once built open nests, the dots and marks on the eggs being of use in concealing their conspicuous white ground. Something seems already to have hinted to Nature that this protection is no longer necessary, and we often find eggs almost white, like those of woodpeckers and owls, which nest in dark places.
We have all heard of birds flocking together for some mutual benefit—the crows, for instance, which travel every winter day across country to favourite "roosts." In the heart of a city we can often study this same phenomenon of birds gathering together in great flocks. In New York City, on One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, there stands a tree—a solitary reminder of the forest which once covered all this paved land. To this, all winter long, the sparrows begin to flock about four or five o'clock in the afternoon. They come singly and in twos and threes until the bare limbs are black with them and there seems not room for another bird; but still they come, each new arrival diving into the mass of birds and causing a local commotion. By seven o'clock there are hundreds of English sparrows perching in this one tree. At daylight they are off again, whirring away by scores, and in a few minutes the tree is silent and empty. The same habit is to be seen in many other cities and towns, for thus the birds gain mutual warmth.
Nature will do her best to diminish the number of sparrows and to regain the balance, but to do this the sparrow must be brought face to face with as many dangers as our wild birds, and although, owing to the sparrows' fearlessness of man, this may never happen, yet at least the colour protections and other former safeguards are slowly being eliminated. On almost every street we may see albino or partly albino birds, such as those with white tails or wings. White birds exist in a wild state only from some adaptation to their surroundings. A bird which is white simply because its need of protection has temporarily ceased, would become the prey of the first stray hawk which crossed its path. We cannot hope to exterminate the English sparrow even by the most wholesale slaughter, but if some species of small hawk or butcher bird could ever become as fearless an inhabitant of our cities as these birds, their reduction to reasonable numbers would be a matter of only a few months.
So dainty in plumage and hue, A study in gray and brown, How little, how little we knew The pest he would prove to the town!
From dawn until daylight grows dim, Perpetual chatter and scold. No winter migration for him, Not even afraid of the cold!
Scarce a song-bird he fails to molest, Belligerent, meddlesome thing! Wherever he goes as a guest He is sure to remain as a King. Mary Isabella Forsyth.
THE PERSONALITY OF TREES
How many of us think of trees almost as we do of the rocks and stones about us,—as all but inanimate objects, standing in the same relation to our earth as does the furry covering of an animal to its owner. The simile might be carried out more in detail, the forests protecting the continents from drought and flood, even as the coat of fur protects its owner from extremes of heat and cold.
When we come to consider the tree as a living individual, a form of life contemporaneous with our own, and to realise that it has its birth and death, its struggles for life and its periods of peace and abundance, we will soon feel for it a keener sympathy and interest and withal a veneration greater than it has ever aroused in us before.
Of all living things on earth, a tree binds us most closely to the past. Some of the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands are thought to be four hundred years old and are probably the oldest animals on the earth. There is, however, nothing to compare with the majesty and grandeur of the Sequoias—the giant redwoods of California—the largest of which, still living, reach upward more than one hundred yards above the ground, and show, by the number of their rings, that their life began from three to five thousand years ago. Our deepest feelings of reverence are aroused when we look at a tree which was "one thousand years old when Homer wrote the Iliad; fifteen hundred years of age when Aristotle was foreshadowing his evolution theory and writing his history of animals; two thousand years of age when Christ walked upon earth; nearly four thousand years of age when the 'Origin of Species' was written. Thus the life of one of these trees spanned the whole period before the birth of Aristotle (384 B.C.) and after the death of Darwin (A.D. 1882), the two greatest natural philosophers who have lived."
Considered not only individually, but taken as a group, the Sequoias are among the oldest of the old. Geologically speaking, most of the forms of life now in existence are of recent origin, but a full ten million of years ago these giant trees were developed almost as highly as they are to-day. At the end of the coal period, when the birds and mammals of to-day were as yet unevolved, existing only potentially in the scaly, reptile-like creatures of those days, the Sequoias waved their needles high in air.
In those days these great trees were found over the whole of Canada, Greenland, and Siberia, but the relentless onslaught of the Ice Age wrought terrible destruction and, like the giant tortoises among reptiles, the apteryx among birds, and the bison among mammals, the forlorn hope of the great redwoods, making a last stand in a few small groves of California, awaits total extinction at the hands of the most terrible of Nature's enemies—man. When the last venerable giant trunk has fallen, the last axe-stroke which severs the circle of vital sap will cut the only thread of individual life which joins in time the beating of our pulses to-day with the beginning of human history and philosophy,—thousands of years in the past.
Through all the millions of years during which the evolution of modern forms of life has been going on, then as now, trees must have entered prominently into the environment and lives of the terrestrial animals. Ages ago, long before snakes and four-toed horses were even foreshadowed, and before the first bird-like creatures had appeared, winged reptile-dragons flew about, doubtless roosting or perching on the Triassic and Jurassic trees. Perhaps the very pieces of coal which are burned in our furnaces once bent and swayed under the weight of these bulky animals. Something like six millions of years ago, long-tailed, fluttering birds appeared, with lizard-like claws at the bend of their wings and with jaws filled with teeth. These creatures were certainly arboreal, spending most of their time among the branches of trees. So large were certain great sloth-like creatures that they uprooted the trees bodily, in order to feed on their succulent leaves, sometimes bending their trunks down until their branches were within reach.
On a walk through the woods and fields to-day, how seldom do we find a dead insect! When sick and dying, nine out of ten are snapped up by frog, lizard, or bird; the few which die a natural death seeming to disintegrate into mould within a very short space of time. There is, however, one way in which, through the long, long thousands of centuries, insects have been preserved. The spicy resin which flowed from the ancient pines attracted hosts of insects, which, tempted by their hope of food, met their death—caught and slowly but surely enclosed by the viscid sap, each antenna and hair as perfect as when the insect was alive. Thus, in this strangely fortunate way, we may know and study the insects which, millions of years ago, fed on the flowers or bored into the bark of trees. We have found no way to improve on Nature in this respect, for to-day when we desire to mount a specimen permanently for microscopical work, we imbed it in Canada balsam.
If suddenly the earth should be bereft of all trees, there would indeed be consternation and despair among many classes of animals. Although in the sea there are thousands of creatures, which, by their manner of life, are prohibited from ever passing the boundary line between land and water, yet many sea-worms, as for example the teredo, or ship-worm, are especially fashioned for living in and perhaps feeding on wood, in the shape of stray floating trees and branches, the bottoms of ships, and piles of wharves. Of course the two latter are supplied by man, but even before his time, floating trees at sea must have been plentiful enough to supply homes for the whole tribe of these creatures, unless they made their burrows in coral or shells.
The insects whose very existence, in some cases, depends upon trees, are innumerable. What, for example, would become of the larvae of the cicada, or locust, which, in the cold and darkness of their subterranean life, for seventeen years suck the juicy roots of trees; or the caterpillars of the moths, spinning high their webs among the leaves; or the countless beetles whose grubs bore through and through the trunk their sinuous, sawdusty tunnels; or the ichneumon fly, which with an instrument—surgical needle, file, augur, and scroll saw all in one—deposits, deep below the bark, its eggs in safety? If forced to compete with terrestrial species, the tree spiders and scorpions would quickly become exterminated; while especially adapted arboreal ants would instantly disappear.
We cannot entirely exclude even fishes from our list; as the absence of mangroves would incidentally affect the climbing perch and catfishes! The newts and common toads would be in no wise dismayed by the passing of the trees, but not so certain tadpoles. Those of our ditches, it is true, would live and flourish, but there are, in the world, many curious kinds which hatch and grow up into frogs in curled-up leaves or in damp places in the forks of branches, and which would find themselves homeless without trees. Think, too, of the poor green and brown tree frogs with their sucker feet, compelled always to hop along the ground!
Lizards, from tiny swifts to sixty-inch iguanas, would sorely miss the trees, while the lithe green tree snakes and the tree boas would have to change all their life habits in order to be able to exist. But as for the cold, uncanny turtles and alligators,—what are trees to them!
In the evolution of the birds and other animals, the cry of "excelsior" has been followed literally as well as theoretically and, with a few exceptions, the highest in each class have not only risen above their fellows in intelligence and structure, but have left the earth and climbed or flown to the tree-tops, making these their chief place of abode.
Many of the birds which find their food at sea, or in the waters of stream and lake, repair to the trees for the purpose of building their nests among the branches. Such birds are the pelicans, herons, ibises, and ospreys; while the wood ducks lay their eggs high above the ground in the hollows of trees. Parrots, kingfishers, swifts, and hummingbirds are almost helpless on the ground, their feet being adapted for climbing about the branches, perching on twigs, or clinging to the hollows of trees. Taken as a whole, birds would suffer more than any other class of creatures in a deforested world. The woodpeckers would be without home, food, and resting-place; except, possibly, the flicker, or high-hole, who is either a retrograde or a genius, whichever we may choose to consider him, and could live well enough upon ground ants. But as to his nest—he would have to sharpen his wits still more to solve successfully the question of the woodpecker motto, "What is home without a hollow tree?"
Great gaps would be made in the ranks of the furry creatures—the mammals. Opossums and raccoons would find themselves in an embarrassing position, and as for the sloths, which never descend to earth, depending for protection on their resemblance to leaves and mossy bark, they would be wiped out with one fell swoop. The arboreal squirrels might learn to burrow, as so many of their near relations have done, but their muscles would become cramped from inactivity and their eyes would often strain upward for a glimpse of the beloved branches. The bats might take to caves and the vampires to outhouses and dark crevices in the rocks, but most of the monkeys and apes would soon become extinct, while a chimpanzee or orang-utan would become a cripple, swinging ever painfully along between the knuckles of crutch-like forearms, searching, searching forever for the trees which gave him his form and structure, and without which his life and that of his race must abruptly end.
Leaving the relations which trees hold to the animals about them and the part which they have played in the evolution of life on the earth in past epochs, let us consider some of the more humble trees about us. Not, however, from the standpoint of the technical botanist or the scientific forester, but from the sympathetic point of view of a living fellow form, sharing the same planet, both owing their lives to the same great source of all light and heat, and subject to the same extremes of heat and cold, storm and drought. How wonderful, when we come to think of it, is a tree, to be able to withstand its enemies, elemental and animate, year after year, decade after decade, although fast-rooted to one patch of earth. An animal flees to shelter at the approach of gale or cyclone, or travels far in search of abundant food. Like the giant algae, ever waving upward from the bed of the sea, which depend on the nourishment of the surrounding waters, so the tree blindly trusts to Nature to minister to its needs, filling its leaves with the light-given greenness, and feeling for nutritious salts with the sensitive tips of its innumerable rootlets.
Darwin has taught us, and truly, that a relentless struggle for existence is ever going on around us, and although this is most evident to our eyes in a terrible death battle between two great beasts of prey, yet it is no less real and intense in the case of the bird pouring forth a beautiful song, or the delicate violet shedding abroad its perfume. To realise the host of enemies ever shadowing the feathered songster and its kind, we have only to remember that though four young birds may be hatched in each of fifty nests, yet of the two hundred nestlings an average often of but one lives to grow to maturity,—to migrate and to return to the region of its birth.
And the violet, living, apparently, such a quiet life of humble sweetness? Fortunate indeed is it if its tiny treasure of seeds is fertilized, and then the chances are a thousand to one that they will grow and ripen only to fall by the wayside, or on barren ground, or among the tares.
At first thought, a tree seems far removed from all such struggles. How solemn and grand its trunk stands, column-like against the sky! How puny and weak we seem beside it! Its sturdy roots, sound wood, and pliant branches all spell power. Nevertheless, the old, old struggle is as fierce, as unending, here as everywhere. A monarch of the forest has gained its supremacy only by a lifelong battle with its own kind and with a horde of alien enemies.
From the heart of the tropics to the limit of tree-growth in the northland we find the battle of life waged fiercely, root contending with root for earth-food, branch with branch for the light which means life.
In a severe wrestling match, the moments of supremest strain are those when the opponents are fast-locked, motionless, when the advantage comes, not with quickness, but with staying power; and likewise in the struggle of tree with tree the fact that one or two years, or even whole decades, watch the efforts of the branches to lift their leaves one above the other, detracts nothing from the bitterness of the strife.
Far to the north we will sometimes find groves of young balsam firs or spruce,—hundreds of the same species of sapling growing so close together that a rabbit may not pass between. The slender trunks, almost touching each other, are bare of branches. Only at the top is there light and air, and the race is ever upward. One year some slight advantage may come to one young tree,—some delicate unbalancing of the scales of life, and that fortunate individual instantly responds, reaching several slender side branches over the heads of his brethren. They as quickly show the effects of the lessened light and forthwith the race is at an end. The victor shoots up tall and straight, stamping and choking out the lives at his side, as surely as if his weapons were teeth and claws instead of delicate root-fibres and soughing foliage.
The contest with its fellows is only the first of many. The same elements which help to give it being and life are ever ready to catch it unawares, to rend it limb from limb, or by patient, long-continued attack bring it crashing to the very dust from which sprang the seed.
We see a mighty spruce whose black leafage has waved above its fellows for a century or more, paying for its supremacy by the distortion of every branch. Such are to be seen clinging to the rocky shores of Fundy, every branch and twig curved toward the land; showing the years of battling with constant gales and blizzards. Like giant weather-vanes they stand, and, though there is no elasticity in their limbs and they are gnarled and scarred, yet our hearts warm in admiration of their decades of patient watching beside the troubled waters. For years to come they will defy every blast the storm god can send against them, until, one wild day, when the soil has grown scanty around the roots of one of the weakest, it will shiver and tremble at some terrific onslaught of wind and sleet; it will fold its branches closer about it and, like the Indian chieftains, who perhaps in years past occasionally watched the waters by the side of the young sapling, the conquered tree will bow its head for the last time to the storm.
Farther inland, sheltered in a narrow valley, stands a sister tree, seeded from the same cone as the storm-distorted spruce. The wind shrieks and howls above the little valley and cannot enter; but the law of compensation brings to bear another element, silent, gentle, but as deadly as the howling blast of the gale. All through the long winter the snow sifts softly down, finding easy lodgment on the dense-foliaged branches. From the surrounding heights the white crystals pour down until the tree groans with the massive weight. Her sister above is battling with the storm, but hardly a feather's weight of snow clings to her waving limbs.
The compressed, down-bent branches of the valley spruce soon become permanently bent and the strain on the trunk fibres is great. At last, with a despairing crash, one great limb gives way and is torn bodily from its place of growth. The very vitals of the tree are exposed and instantly every splintered cell is filled with the sifting snow. Helpless the tree stands, and early in the spring, at the first quickening of summer's growth, a salve of curative resin is poured upon the wound. But it is too late. The invading water has done its work and the elements have begun to rot the very heart of the tree. How much more to be desired is the manner of life and death of the first spruce, battling to the very last!
A beech seedling which takes root close to the bank of a stream has a good chance of surviving, since there will be no competitors on the water side and moisture and air will never fail. But look at some ancient beech growing thus, whose smooth, whitened hole encloses a century of growth rings. Offsetting its advantages, the stream, little by little, has undermined the maze of roots and the force of annual freshets has trained them all in a down-stream direction. It is an inverted reminder of the wind-moulded spruce. Although the stout beech props itself by great roots thrown landward, yet, sooner or later, the ripples will filter in beyond the centre of gravity and the mighty tree will topple and mingle with its shadow-double which for so many years the stream has reflected.
Thus we find that while without moisture no tree could exist, yet the same element often brings death. The amphibious mangroves which fringe the coral islands of the southern seas hardly attain to the dignity of trees, but in the mysterious depths of our southern swamps we find the strangely picturesque cypresses, which defy the waters about them. One cannot say where trunk ends and root begins, but up from the stagnant slime rise great arched buttresses, so that the tree seems to be supported on giant six- or eight-legged stools, between the arches of which the water flows and finds no chance to use its power. Here, in these lonely solitudes,—heron-haunted, snake-infested,—the hanging moss and orchids search out every dead limb and cover it with an unnatural greenness. Here, great lichens grow and a myriad tropical insects bore and tunnel their way from bark to heart of tree and back again. Here, in the blackness of night, when the air is heavy with hot, swampy odours, and only the occasional squawk of a heron or cry of some animal is heard, a rending, grinding, crashing, breaks suddenly upon the stillness, a distant boom and splash, awakening every creature. Then the silence again closes down and we know that a cypress, perhaps linking a trio of centuries, has yielded up its life.
Leaving the hundred other mysteries which the trees of the tropics might unfold, let us consider for a moment the danger which the tall, successful tree invites,—the penalty which it pays for having surpassed all its other brethren. It preeminently attracts the bolts of Jove and the lesser trees see a blinding flash, hear a rending of heart wood, and when the storm has passed, the tree, before perfect in trunk, limbs, and foliage, is now but a heap of charred splinters.
Many a great willow overhanging the banks of a wide river could tell interesting tales of the scars on its trunk. That lower wound was a deep gash cut by some Indian, perhaps to direct a war-party making their way through the untrodden wilderness; this bare, unsightly patch was burnt out by the signal fire of one of our forefather pioneers. And so on and on the story would unfold, until the topmost, freshly sawed-off limb had for its purpose only the desire of the present owner for a clearer view of the water beyond.
Finally we come to the tree best beloved of us in the north,—the carefully grafted descendant of some sour little wild crab-apple. A faithful servant indeed has the monarch of the old orchard proved. It has fed us and our fathers before us, and its gnarled trunk and low-hanging branches tell the story of the rosy fruit which has weighed down its limbs year after year. Old age has laid a heavy hand upon it, but not until the outermost twig has ceased to blossom, and its death, unlike that of its wild kindred, has come silently and peacefully, do we give the order to have the tree felled. Even in its death it serves us, giving back from the open hearth the light and heat which it has stored up throughout the summers of many years.
Let us give more thought to the trees about us, and when possible succour them in distress, straighten the bent sapling, remove the parasitic lichen, and give them the best chance for a long, patient, strong life.
In the far North stands a Pine-tree, lone, Upon a wintry height; It sleeps; around it snows have thrown A covering of white.
It dreams forever of a Palm That, far i' the morning-land, Stands silent in a most sad calm Midst of the burning sand.
(From the German of Heine.) SIDNEY LANIER.
AN OWL OF THE NORTH
It is mid-winter, and from the northland a blizzard of icy winds and swirling snow crystals is sweeping with fury southward over woods and fields. We sit in our warm room before the crackling log fire and listen to the shriek of the gale and wonder how it fares with the little bundles of feathers huddled among the cedar branches.
We picture to ourselves all the wild kindred sheltered from the raging storm; the gray squirrels rocking in their lofty nests of leaves; the chipmunks snug underground; the screech owls deep in the hollow apple trees, all warm and dry.
But there are those for whom the blizzard has no terrors. Far to the north on the barren wastes of Labrador, where the gale first comes in from the sea and gathers strength as it comes, a great owl flaps upward and on broad pinions, white as the driving snowflakes, sweeps southward with the storm. Now over ice-bound river or lake, or rushing past a myriad dark spires of spruce, then hovering wonderingly over a multitude of lights from the streets of some town, the strong Arctic bird forges southward, until one night, if we only knew, we might open our window and, looking upward, see two great yellow eyes apparently hanging in space, the body and wings of the bird in snow-white plumage lost amidst the flakes. We thrill in admiration at the grand bird, so fearless of the raging elements.
Only the coldest and fiercest storms will tempt him from the north, and then not because he fears snow or cold, but in order to keep within reach of the snowbirds which form his food. He seeks for places where a less severe cold encourages small birds to be abroad, or where the snow's crust is less icy, through which the field mice may bore their tunnels, and run hither and thither in the moonlight, pulling down the weeds and cracking their frames of ice. Heedless of passing clouds, these little rodents scamper about, until a darker, swifter shadow passes, and the feathered talons of the snowy owl close over the tiny, shivering bundle of fur.
Occasionally after such a storm, one may come across this white owl in some snowy field, hunting in broad daylight; and that must go down as a red-letter day, to be remembered for years.
What would one not give to know of his adventures since he left the far north. What stories he could tell of hunts for the ptarmigan,—those Arctic fowl, clad in plumage as white as his own; or the little kit foxes, or the seals and polar bears playing the great game of life and death among the grinding icebergs!
His visit to us is a short one. Comes the first hint of a thaw and he has vanished like a melting snowflake, back to his home and his mate. There in a hollow in the half-frozen Iceland moss, in February, as many as ten fuzzy little snowy owlets may grow up in one nest,—all as hardy and beautiful and brave as their great fierce-eyed parents.