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. 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, or our pink azalea, or our white alder, 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 of nodding whitish flowers, tinged with pink, 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 wallflower; and when British children go to the woods at the same season, they can load their hands and baskets with nothing that compares 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 native wild flowers and flowering shrubs and trees in New England and New York, and, no doubt, many more in the South and West. My list is as follows:—
White violet (VIOLA BLANDA). Canada violet (VIOLA CANADENSIS). Hepatica (occasionally fragrant). Trailing arbutus (EPIGĈA REPENS). Mandrake (PODOPHYLLUM PELTATUM). Yellow lady's-slipper (CYPRIPEDIUM PARVIFLORUM). Purple lady's-slipper (CYPRIPEDIUM ACAULE). Squirrel corn (DICENTRA CANADENSIS). Showy orchis (ORCHIS SPECTABILIS). Purple fringed-orchis (HABENARIA PSYCODES). Arethusa (ARETHUSA BULBOSA). Calopogon (CALOPOGON PULCHELLUS). Lady's-tresses (SPIRANTHES CERNUA). Pond-lily (NYMPHĈA ODORATA). Wild rose (ROSA NITIDA). Twin-flower (LINNĈA BOREALIS). Sugar maple (ACER SACCHARINUM) Linden (TILIA AMERICANA). Locust-tree (ROBINIA PSEUDACACIA). White alder (CLETHRA ALNIFOLIA). Smooth azalea (RHODODENDRON ARBORESCENS). White azalea (RHODODENDRON VISCOSUM). Pinxter-flower (RHODODENDRON NUDIFLORUM). Yellow azalea (RHODODENDRON CALENDULACEUM), Sweet bay (MAGNOLIA GLAUCA). Mitchella vine (MITCHELLA REPENS). Sweet coltsfoot (PETASITES PALMATA). Pasture thistle (CNICUS PUMILUS). False wintergreen (PYROLA ROTUNDIFOLIA). Spotted wintergreen (CHIMAPHILIA MACULATA). Prince's pine (CHIMAPHILIA UMBELLATA). Evening primrose (NOTHERA BIENNIS). Hairy loosestrife (STEIRONEMA CILIATUM). Dogbane (APOCYNUM). Ground-nut (APIOS TUBEROSA). Adder's-tongue pogonia (POGONIA OPHIOGLOSSOIDES). Wild grape (VITIS CORDOFOLIA). Horned bladderwort (UTRICULARIA CORNUTA).
The last-named, horned bladderwort, is perhaps the 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 belongs 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 little brood of them that have a most delicate and delicious fragrance. The same is true of a species of loosestrife 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 sweet fragrance; at other times, or from another locality, they are scentless. Our evening primrose is thought to be uniformly sweet-scented, but the past season I examined many specimens, and failed to find one that was so. Some seasons the sugar maple yields much sweeter sap than in others; and even individual trees, owing to the soil, moisture, and other conditions where they stand, show a great difference in this respect. The same is doubtless true of the sweet-scented flowers. I had always supposed that our Canada violet—the tall, leafy-stemmed white violet of our Northern 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 25 had very sweet-scented foliage, especially when crushed in the hand, the flowers were practically 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 1, was quite as fragrant as the English violet, 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 under this tree just at the right moment, say at nightfall on the first or second day of its perfect inflorescence, and the air is laden with its sweetness; its perfumed breath falls upon you as its cool shadow does a few weeks later.
After the linnĉa and the arbutus, the prettiest sweet-scented flowering vine our woods hold is the common mitchella vine, called squaw-berry and partridge-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, 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. It has two oblong shining leaves, with a scape four or five inches high strung with sweet-scented, pink- purple flowers. 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 midsummer 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.
Few 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 limited in its range than the common Old World thistle that grows everywhere. Our little, sweet white violet grows only in wet places, and the Canada violet only in high, cool woods, while the common blue violet is much more general in its distribution. How fastidious 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 arbutus, 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 NYMPHĈA ODORATA requires a nicer adjustment of conditions, and consequently is more restricted in its range. If the mullein were fragrant, or toadflax, or the daisy, or blue-weed, or goldenrod, they would doubtless be far less troublesome to the agriculturist. 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 of perfume to a flower is a special grace like genius or like beauty, and never becomes common or cheap.
"Do honey and fragrance always go together in the flowers? "Not uniformly. Of the list of fragrant wild flowers I have given, the only ones that the bees procure nectar from, so far as I have observed, are arbutus, dicentra, sugar maple, locust, and linden. Non-fragrant flowers that yield honey are those of the raspberry, clematis, sumac, white oak, bugloss, ailanthus, goldenrod, aster, fleabane. A large number of odorless plants yield pollen to the bee. There is nectar in the columbine, and the bumblebee sometimes gets it by piercing the spur from the outside as she does with dicentra. There ought to be honey in the honeysuckle, but I have never seen the hive-bee make any attempt to get it.
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 near him! Some of them are so domestic and familiar, 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 will wait long before they draw near it. Or knot-grass, that carpets every old dooryard, 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, increase 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 are 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 field with thistles.
Weeds are Nature's makeshift. She rejoices in the grass and the grain, but when these fail to cover her nakedness she resorts to weeds. It is in her plan or 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 spring up; if these are destroyed, harvest grass, or quack grass, or purslane, appears. The spade or the plow that turns these under is sure to turn up some other variety, as chickweed, sheep-sorrel, or goose-foot. The soil is a storehouse of seeds.
The old farmers say that wood-ashes will bring in the white clover, and they 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 seashore; 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 engrossing purpose with them is to multiply. The wild onion multiplies at both ends,—at the top by seed, and at 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 the head of the wild carrot, and in a week or two there are five heads in place 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 forward 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 burdock 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," 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 has 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; they 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 other tramps, they find it safest by the highway: in the 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 new weed is generally first noticed along the highway 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. 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, 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's bugloss, or blue-weed, which is said to be a troublesome 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 cultivated 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 and July blue with it, and rye and oats and grass in the near fields find it a serious competitor for possession of the soil. It has gone down the Hudson, and is 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 time give it another lift, so that it is slowly but surely making its way inland. The bugloss belongs to 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 purple 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 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 comeliness and bounce. It looks like a Yorkshire housemaid. Still another plant in my section, which I notice has been widely distributed by the agency of water, is the spiked loosestrife. 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 belongs to the class of beautiful weeds. It grows rank and tall, in dense communities, and always presents to the eye 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 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 occasion," he says, "landing on a small uninhabited island nearly at the Antipodes, the first evidence I met with of its having been previously visited by man was the English chickweed; and this I traced to a mound that marked the grave of a British sailor, and that was covered with the plant, doubtless the offspring of seed that had adhered to the spade or mattock 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 it here. You shall see more weeds in one day's-travel in this country than in a week's journey in Europe. Our culture of the soil is not so close and thorough, our 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 from a field by elecampane, or by teasel or milkweed; whole acres given up to whiteweed, golden-rod, wild carrots, or the ox- eye daisy; meadows overrun with bear-weed, 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 chicory growing far more luxuriantly than he had ever seen it elsewhere, "forming a tangled mass of stems and branches, studded with turquoise-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 bumblebee gathered honey from all these plants, but Emerson is careful to say only that she dwelt among them. Succory is one 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, ungenial, sharp-toothed, that is akin to them? How 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, ragweed, and goldenrod; but who would miss the last from our fields and highways?
"Along the roadside, like the flowers of gold That tawny Incas for their gardens wrought, Heavy with sunshine droops the goldenrod,"
sings Whittier. In Europe our goldenrod is cultivated in the flower gardens, as well it may be. The native species is found mainly in woods, and is much less 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 it, if it does sometimes overrun the meadow.
"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 is AMBROSIA, food of the gods. It must be the food of the gods if 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 cattle 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 are not at all suggestive of the traditional Ambrosia!) 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 should 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:—
Common thistle, Canada thistle, Burdock, Yellow dock, Wild carrot, Ox-eye daisy, Chamomile, Mullein, Dead-nettle (LAMIUM), Hemp nettle (GALEOPSIS), Elecampane, Plantain, Motherwort, Stramonium, Catnip, Blue-weed, Stick-seed, Hound 's-tongue, Henbane, Pigweed, Quitch grass, Gill, Nightshade, Buttercup, Dandelion, Wild mustard, Shepherd's purse, St. John's-wort Chickweed, Purslane, Mallow, Darnel, Poison hemlock, Hop-clover, Yarrow, Wild radish, Wild parsnip, Chicory, Live-forever, Toad-flax, Sheep-sorrel, Mayweed,
and others less noxious. To offset this list we have 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 paying 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 have made so much, the larkspur, which is a pretty cornfield 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 sweet rusticity and charm of European rural life, they do not thrive readily under our skies. Our fleabane has become a common roadside 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 has recently appeared along certain of the English rivers.
Pokeweed 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 coveted its strong purple stalk for a cane, and the robins eat its dark crimson-juiced berries.
It is commonly believed that the mullein is indigenous to this country, for have we not heard that it 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 throughout 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 comes 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 the seashore."
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 say pugnacity. They fight for the soil; they plant colonies here and there, and will not be rooted out. Our native weeds are for the most part shy and harmless, and retreat before cultivation, but the European outlaws 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 outskirts of civilization; while the Old World species defy our traps and our poison, and have usurped the land. So with the weeds. Take the thistle for instance: the common and abundant one everywhere, in fields and along highways, is the European species; while the native thistles, swamp thistle, pasture thistle, etc., are much more shy, and are not at all troublesome. 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. Of course the plow or the scythe, if not allowed to rest more than a month at a time, will finally conquer it.
Or take the common St. John's-wort,—how it has established itself in our fields and become a most pernicious weed, very difficult to extirpate; while the native species are quite 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 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, delicately veined flowers, or the variety with yellow flowers, is quite harmless. The same is true of the mallow, the vetch, the tare, and other plants. We have no native plant so indestructible as garden orpine, or live-forever, which our grandmothers nursed, and for which they are cursed by many a farmer. The fat, tender, succulent dooryard stripling turned out to be a monster that would devour the earth. I have seen acres of meadow land destroyed by it. The way to drown an amphibious animal is never to 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 cultivator to scorn, but grazing herds will eventually scotch it. Our two species of native orpine, SEDUM TERNATUM and S. TELEPHIOIDES, are never troublesome as weeds.
The European weeds are sophisticated, domesticated, 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 will thrive in a lean soil, or they will wax strong in a rich one; in all cases they follow 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, but that depends upon whether the competition is sharp and close. If the weed finds itself distanced, or pitted against great odds, it grows more slowly and is 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 content itself with a few inches and mature its seed almost upon the ground.
Many of our worst weeds are plants that have-escaped from cultivation, as the wild radish, which is troublesome in parts of New England; the wild carrot, which infests the fields in eastern New York; and the 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 garden and followed the plow afield. It will manage to mature its seeds if not allowed to start till midsummer.
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 mullein that blooms along the highway, and about the fields, and maybe upon the edge of the lawn, from midsummer till frost comes. In winter its slender stalk rises above the snow, bearing its round seed-pods on its pin-like stems, and is pleasing 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 conspicuously.
Bidens, two-teeth, or "pitchforks," as the boys call 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, which looks like an overgrown 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 sometimes 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 its 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 currant-bushes and grapevines, is the dandelion; yet who would banish it from the meadows or the lawns, where it copies in gold upon the green expanse the stars of the midnight sky? After its first blooming comes its second and finer and more spiritual inflorescence, 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 of 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 bumblebee has discovered that the hateful toadflax, 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 true of most of the obnoxious weeds of the garden, and of thistles. The wild lettuce yields down for the hummingbird'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 universal 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 is more universal, and crowds 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 humbly at its foot and accept what comes; in all cases they make the most of their opportunities.
A WHITE DAY AND A RED 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 refreshing 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 asserts itself very proudly. It takes the world quickly and 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 occasional mullein- stalk or other tall weed stood above 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 before 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 or stone walls show like half-obliterated 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 schoolhouse,— the eye cannot help but note them: they are black specks upon square miles of luminous white. What a multitude of sins this unstinted charity 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 meadows, 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 is like a fly moving across an illuminated surface. A distant mellow bay floats to us, and we know it is the 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 Reynard is steering for the Big Mountain. We press on and 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 conjurer's trick. The very trees have turned to snow. The smallest branch is like a cluster 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, submerging 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 adheres to them like a growth. On examination I find the branches coated with ice, from which shoot slender spikes and needles that penetrate and hold the cord of snow. It is a new kind of foliage wrought by the frost and the clouds, and it obscures the sky, and fills the vistas of the woods nearly as much as the myriad leaves of summer. The sun blazes, the sky 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 these 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 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, 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 morning, either from the cold, or in despair of ever getting out of the pail.
At one point, around a small sugar maple, the mice-tracks are unusually thick. It is doubtless their granary; they have beech- nuts stored there, I'll warrant. 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 consternation. 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 entrance: 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 squirrels, 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 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 lowing 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 lookout, and the appearance of the hunter above and behind 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 snowflakes drifting across the sky. I hear a purple finch, too, and the feeble lisp of the redpoll. A shrike (the first I have seen this season) finds occasion to come this way also. He alights on the tip of a dry limb, and from his perch can see into the valley on both sides of the 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 companion.
"Let us go there," say I, and we are 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 solitudes, 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 walking along discussing the matter, we suddenly hear the dog coming straight on to us. The woods are so choked with snow that we do not hear him till he breaks up from under the mountain within a hundred yards of us.
"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 runways indicated. How light it was, though the sun was hidden! Every branch and twig beamed in the sun 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 boulders. 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 voice comes up astonishingly near. A mass of snow falls from a branch, and makes one start; but it is not the fox. Then through the white vista below me I catch a glimpse of something red or yellow, yellowish red or reddish yellow; it emerges from the lower ground, and, with an easy, jaunty air, draws 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 autumn leaf upon the spotless surface. Then he starts 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, comes like a whirlwind and is off in hot pursuit. Both fox and dog now bleed,— the dog at his heels, the fox from his wounds.
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, the coward has taken to his hole, ho-o-o-le." Plunging down in the direction of the sound, the snow literally 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 latter had fled was partially closed, and, as I scraped out and cleared away the snow, I thought of the familiar 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 vertical 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 dim 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 is a fierce encounter there beneath the rocks, the 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 suspiciously, 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 is quickly stripped off, revealing his lean, sinewy form.
The fox was not as poor in flesh as I expected to see him, though I'll 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 diet he must of necessity be confined to, is a mystery. Snow, snow everywhere, for weeks and for months, and intense cold, and no henroost 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. Rarely, 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 memory (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 concluded that a couple of males had had an encounter there, and a pretty sharp one. Reynard goes a-wooing 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 hurried home to rest upon his laurels.
A POTOMAC SKETCH
While on a visit to Washington in January, 1878, I went on an expedition down the Potomac with a couple of friends to shoot ducks. We left on the morning boat that makes daily trips to and from Mount Vernon. The weather was chilly and the sky threatening. The clouds had a singular appearance; they were boat-shaped, with well-defined keels. I have seldom known such clouds to bring rain; they are simply the fleet of Ĉolus, 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 "blind" near Fort Washington. Opposite 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 Vernon landing; he was an old ducker. For my part, I had never killed a duck,—except with an axe,—nor have I yet.
We made our way along the beach from the landing, over piles of driftwood, and soon reached the quarters, a substantial building, fitted up with a stove, 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 companions. "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 Vernon. It formed a-sort of rich, historic background to our flitting and trivial experiences. Just where the eye of the great Captain 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 carried 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 next morning. We would spend the afternoon roaming inland in quest of quail, or rabbits, or turkeys (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 shooting 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 robins 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 presently 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 shore was distinctly heard. A large bed of ducks 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 deceptively near. Silently we paddled in that direction. When about half a mile from them, all sound of feeding 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 decoys 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. Iron decoys sit upon these wings and upon the edge of the box, and sink it to the required level, so that, when everything is completed and the gunner is in position, from a distance or from the shore one sees only a large bed of ducks, 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 maybe 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 circling 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 companion 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 for robins, he may expect to see turkeys, and VICE 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 turkey, with a spread tail, leaping along at a rapid rate. She was so completely the image of the barnyard 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 experience 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 sundown, 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 far off for a shot.
In my wanderings that afternoon, I came upon two negro shanties in a small triangular clearing in the woods; no road but only a footpath 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 natural 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 "dreadful."
"Were there any snakes?"
"Yes, sah; black snakes, moccasins, and doctors."
The doctor, she said, was a powerful ugly customer; 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."
I 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.' "
I saw a rude box-trap made of rough boards. It seems these traps, and many other things, such as beehives, 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 keyhole and see what the whisperings and the preparations mean.
"Dark night, that from the eye his function takes, The ear more quick of apprehension makes,"
says Shakespeare. I overheard some muskrats engaged 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 rehearsed 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 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 uttering 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 another 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 of the bones of the first steamboat, or was it some Virginia 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 timbers pawed and pawed 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 alongshore calling quite plainly the words a Georgetown poet has put in his mouth,—"Sweetheart, sweetheart, 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 for me she could have assumed. I raised my head a little, 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. "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; I 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 lay down again and faced the sun, that had now burned 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 remembrances, we returned to Washington that afternoon.
ABUTILON, or velvet-leaf.
Arbutus, trailing, or mayflower.
Azalea, pink, or pinxter-flower.
Ball, an inexpensive.
Bear, black, attacked with a club.
Beattie, James, quotation from.
Bee. See Bumblebee, Honey-bee, and Sweat-bee.
Bidens, or two-teeth, or pitchforks.
Big Beaver Kill.
Birds, singing at night; morning awakening of; individuality in the songs of; in poetry; process of hatching; leaving the nest; arrival in spring; love-making among; war among; their departure in the fall; a good season for; songs of, in America and in England.
Birds of prey, their flight when laden.
Blackbird, cow, or cowbird (MOLOTHRUS ATER).
Blackbird, crow, or purple grackle (QUISCALUS QUISCULA).
Blackbird, European, in poetry; his resemblance to the American robin; notes of.
Blackbird, red-winged. See Starling, red-shouldered.
Blackbird, rusty. See Grackle, rusty.
Bluebird (SIALIA SIALIS), in poetry; notes of; nest of.
Blue-weed, or viper's bugloss; travels of; description of.
Boat, a picturesque.
Bobolink (DOLICHONYX ORYZIVORUS; as a wooer; notes of.
Bob-white. See Quail.
Bouncing Bet, or saponaria.
Bryant, William Cullen; as a poet of nature; quotations from.
Bugloss, viper's. See Blue-weed.
Bumblebee; nest of.
Bunting, indigo. See Indigo-bird.
Bunting, snow, or snowflake (PASSERINA NIVALIS).
Burns, Robert, quotation from.
Camping; in the rain.
Cardinal (CARDINALIS CARDINALIS); notes of.
Cardinal flower. See Lobelia, scarlet.
Catbird (GALEOSCOPTES CAROLINENSIS), in poetry; notes of.
Cattle, crossing a river; as eaters of weeds.
Cedar-bird, or cedar waxwing (AMPELIS CEDRORUM.
Chewink, or towhee (PIPILO ERYTHROPHTHALMUS).
Chickadee (PARUS ATRICAPILLUS); nest of.
Chickweed; at the antipodes.
Chicory, or succory; in poetry.
Chippie. See Sparrow.
Cicada, or harvest-fly.
Claytonia, or spring beauty.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, quotation from.
Coon. See Raccoon.
Cowbird. See Blackbird, cow.
Cows. See Cattle.
Cowslip. See Marigold, marsh.
Creeper, brown (CERTHIA FAMILIARIS AMERICANA), nest of.
Crickets. See Tree-crickets.
Crow American (CORVUS BRACHYRHYNCHOS), gait of; notes of.
Cuckoo (COCCYZUS sp.), heard at night; habits of; in poetry; notes of.
Cypripedium. See Lady's-slipper.
Day, a white.
Delaware River, Pepacton branch of. See Pepacton River.
Dicentra, or squirrel corn.
Doctor, the (a snake).
Dog, Cuff and the woodchucks. See Greyhound and Hound.
Dog, farm, hound and.
Dove, mourning (ZENAIDURA MACROURA).
Duck-shooting on the Potomac.
Eagle, chased by a kingbird; flight of an.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, quotations from; his knowledge of nature.
England, bird-songs in; pedestrianism in; the footpaths of; the highways of.
Finch, purple (CARPODACUS PURPUREUS; notes of.
Fisherman, an ancient.
Fishes, spring movements of.
Fleabane, or whiteweed.
Flicker. See High-hole.
Flowers, wild, in poetry; fragrant.
Footpaths, lack of, in America; English; a schoolboy's footpath.
Forenoon, as distinguished from morning.
Fox, red, and hound,; hunting a; favorite sleeping places of; hard fare in winter; an encounter between rivals.
Frog. See Bullfrog.
Frog, clucking. See Wood-frog.
Frog, peeping. See Hyla, Pickering's.
Gentian, fringed, 63; Bryant's poem on.
Goldfinch, American (ASTRAGALINUS TRISTIS; pairing habits of; notes of.
Grackle, purple. See Blackbird, crow.
Grackle, rusty, or rusty blackbird (EUPHAGUS CAROLINUS), notes of.
Grass, the natural covering of the fields.
Green Cove Spring.
Grouse, ruffed, or partridge (BONASA UMBELLUS), in poetry; drumming of.
Harvest-fly. See Cicada.
Hawk, in poetry, 116. See Hen-hawk.
Hawkfish. See Osprey, American.
Hepatica, or liver-leaf; the first spring flower; an intermittently fragrant flower.
Heron, great blue (ARDEA HERODIAS; notes of, 24, 28.
High-hole, or golden-winged woodpecker, or flicker (COLAPTES AURATUS LUTEUS; notes of; nest of.
Highlands of the Hudson, the.
Honey, flowers which yield.
Honey-bee, a product of civilization; wandering habits of; hunting wild bees; method of handling; as robbers; enemies of; Virgil on.
Hooker, Sir Joseph.
Hound, fox and.
Houstonia, or innocence.
Humble-bee. See Bumblebee.
Humming-bird, ruby-throated (TROCHILUS COLUBRIS), in poetry; nest of.
Hunt, Helen, quotation from.
Hyla, Pickering's, or peeping frog; arboreal life of.
Hylas, the story of.
Indigo-bird or indigo bunting (CYANOSPIZA CYANEA; notes of.
Innocence. See Houstonia.
Jay, blue (CYANOCITTA CRISTATA; notes of.
Junco, slate-colored. See Snowbird.
Kingbird (TYRANNUS TYRANNUS), chasing an eagle; as a bee-eater; notes of.
Kingfisher, belted (CERYLE ALCYON.
Knapp, Hon. Charles.
Lady's-slipper, large yellow.
Lady's-slipper, small yellow.
Lark. See Skylark.
Lark, shore or horned (OTOCORIS ALPESTRIS and O. A. PRATICOLA) and note.
Lettuce, wild, 230, inden.
Liver-leaf. See Hepatica.
Lobelia, great blue.
Lobelia, scarlet, or cardinal flower.
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, his inaccuracy in dealing with nature; quotations from.
Loosestrife, spiked, travels of; description of.
Lowell, James Russell, quotations from; his fidelity to nature.
Maple, sugar; fragrance of its blossoms.
Martin, purple (PROGNE SUBIS).
Masque of the Poets, A, quotation from.
Mayflower. See Arbutus, trailing.
Meadowlark (STURNELLA MAGNA); notes of.
Merganser, hooded (LOPHODYTES CUCULLATUS), with a brood of young.
Mitchella vine, or squaw-berry, or partridge-berry.
Mockingbird (MIMUS POLYGLOTTOS), in poetry.
Morning and forenoon, distinction between.
Mouse, white-footed, 169; tracks of.
Mullein; habits of.
Muskrat; a weatherwise animal; active in winter; nests of.
Nature, the poets' intuitive knowledge of; Emerson's knowledge of; Bryant's knowledge of; Longfellow's inaccuracy in dealing with; Whittier's treatment of; Lowell's fidelity to Tennyson's accurate observations of; Walt Whitman a close student of; the poetic interpretation of; the scientific interpretation of.
Negro girl, a conversation with a.
Nighthawk (CHORDEILES VIRGINIANUS.
Note in the woods, a new.
Orchids, American flora rich in.
Orchis, fringed. See Fringed-orchis.
Oriole, Baltimore (ICTERUS GALBULA); as a fruit-destroyer; notes of; nest of.
Orpine, garden. See Live-forever.
Osprey, American, or fish hawk (PANDION HALIAËTUS CAROLINENSIS), feeding on the wing.
Oven-bird (SEIURUS AUROCAPILLUS); song of.
Owl, screech (MEGASCOPS ASIO), and shrike.
Pain, in relation to the nervous system.
Partridge. See Grouse, ruffed.
Partridge-berry. See Mitchella vine.
Pepacton River; a voyage down.
Pewee, wood (CONTOPUS VIRENS), Trowbridge's poem on.
Phbe-bird (SAYORNIS PHBE); notes of; nest of.
Pigeon, passenger (ECTOPISTES MIGRATORIUS).
Pine, loblolly, 247.
Pinxter-flower. See Azalea, pink.
Pipit, American. See Titlark.
Pitchforks. See Biclens.
Pliny, his account of an intermittent spring.
Poets, their intuitive knowledge of nature; inaccuracies and felicities in matters of natural history; their interpretation of nature.
Pond-lily, or sweet-scented water lily.
Poppy, scarlet field.
Potomac River, duck-shooting on.
Primrose, in poetry.
Pyrola. See Wintergreen, false.
Quail, or bob-white (COLINUS VIRGINIANUS.
Raccoon, or coon.
Rafting on the Delaware.
Ragweed; a troublesome weed.
Rain, arboreal; summer.
Redbird. See Cardinal.
Redpoll (ACANTHIS LINARIA), notes; of.
River, a voyage down a; loneliness of the.
Roads, in England and America.
Robin, American (MERULA MIGRATORIA); in poetry; in love and war; notes of; nest of.
Roots, like molten metal.
Salamander, violet-colored or spotted.
San Antonio, Texas.
Saponaria. See Bouncing Bet.
Sapsucker, yellow-bellied. See-Woodpecker, yellow-bellied.
Sawmill, a floating.
Scott, Sir Walter.
Shairp, John Campbell, his POETIC INTERPRETATION OF NATURE.
Shakespeare, quotations from; his accuracy in observation.
Skylark; on the Hudson; song of.
Snow, a landscape of; in the woods.
Snowbird, slate-colored, or slate-colored junco (JUNCO HYEMALIS), in poetry; notes of.
Snowflake. See Bunting, snow.
Sparrow, bush or Held (SPIZELLA PUSILLA.
Sparrow, English (PASSER DOMESTICUS), manner of courtship.
Sparrow, social or chipping, or "chippie" (SPIZELLA SOCIALIS).
Sparrow, song (MELOSPIZA CINEREA MELODIA); notes of.
Sparrow, vesper (POCETES GRAMINEUS), rejecting the attentions of a skylark.
Spider, killing a bee; a musical.
Spring, sudden coming of, 160-168.
Spring beauty. See Claytonia.
Springs, paths leading to; their universal attractiveness; centres of greenness; symbolism of; locations of; fondness of trout for; physiology of; their mineral elements; large; as refrigerators; countries poor in; on mountains; places of worship; various kinds of; marvelous; intermittent; in the Idyls of Theocritus.
Squaw-berry. See Mitchella vine.
Squirrel, Mexican black.
Squirrel corn. See Dicentra.
Squirrels, as parachutes.
Starling, red-shouldered, or red winged blackbird, notes of.
Stedman, Edmund Clarence, his SEEKING THE MAYFLOWER.
Stevenson, Robert Louis, his TRAVELS WITH A DONKEY.
Stones, life under.
Succory. See Chicory.
Swallow, bank (RIPARIA RIPARIA).
Swallow, barn (HIRUNDO ERYTHROGASTRA); nest of.
Swallow, chimney, or chimney swift (CHĈTURA PELAGICA), nest of.
Swallow, cliff (PETROCHELIDON LUNIFRONS), in poetry; nest of.
Swallows, in poetry.
Tails, uses of.
Tare. See Vetch.
Tennyson, Alfred, quotations from; a good observer.
Theocritus, quotation from.
Thomson, James, quotation from.
Thrasher, brown (TOXOSTOMA RUFUM), song of.
Thrush, hermit (HYLOCICHLA GUTTATA PALLASII), in poetry; notes of.
Thrush, wood (HYLOCICHLA MUSTELINA), notes of.
Titlark, or American pipit (ANTHUS PENSILVANICUS).
Toad. See Tree-toad.
Towhee. See Chewink.
Trout, brook, their fondness for springs; caught with tickling.
Trowbridge, John T., his natural history; quotations from.
Turkey, wild (MELEAGRIS GALLOPAVO SILVESTRIS).
Twin-flower. See Linnĉa.
Two-teeth. See Bidens.
Velvet-leaf. See Abutilon.
Vetch, or tare.
Violet, in poetry.
Violet, Canada; its fragrance.
Violet, common blue.
Vireo, in poetry.
Virgil, on honey-bees; quotations from.
Walking, in England; a simple and natural pastime.
Warbler, yellow-rumped, or myrtle (DENDROICA CORONATA).
Wasp, sand. See Hornet, sand.
Water-lily. See Pond-lily.
Waxwing, cedar. See Cedar-bird.
Weeds; their devotion to man; the gardener and the farmer the best friends of; Nature's makeshift; great travelers; their abundance in America; native and foreign; the growth of; escaped from cultivation; beautiful; uses of various; less persistent and universal than grass; virtues of.
Well of St. Winifred.
Whip-poor-will (ANTROSTOMUS VOCIFERUS), song of.
Whiteweed. See Fleabane.
Whitman, Walt, a close student of American nature; quotations from.
Whittier, John Greenleaf, as a poet of nature; quotations from.
Wintergreen, false, or pyrola.
Woodpecker, in poetry.
Woodpecker, downy (DRYOBATES PUBESCENS MEDIANUS).
Woodpecker, golden-winged. See High-hole.
Woodpecker, yellow-bellied, or yellow-bellied sapsucker (SPHYRAPICIUS VARIUS), drumming of.
Wordsworth, William, quotations from.
Wren, Carolina (THRYOTHORUS LUDOVICIANUS), notes of.
Wren, house (TROGLODYTES AËDON), notes of; nest of.