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Contents Contents iii
Biographical Sketch v
PART 1: About Birds1
1. Bird Enemies 3
2. The Tragedies of the Nests 9
PART 2: About Bees 17
3. An Idyll of the Honey Bee 19
4. The Pastoral Bees 25
Contents PART 3: Sharp Eyes and Other Papers 31
5. Sharp Eyes 33
Works by the Author 35
Biographical Sketch Nature chose the spring of the year for the time of John Burroughs's birth. A little before the day when the wake-robin shows itself, that the observer might be on hand for the sight, he was born in Roxbury, Delaware County, New York, on the western borders of the Catskill Mountains; the precise date was April 3, 1837. Until 1863 he remained in the country about his native place, working on his father's farm, getting his schooling in the district school and neighboring academies, and taking his turn also as teacher. As he himself has hinted, the originality, freshness, and wholesomeness of his writings are probably due in great measure to the unliterary surroundings of his early life, which allowed his mind to form itself on unconventional lines, and to the later companionships with unlettered men, which kept him in touch with the sturdy simplicities of life.
From the very beginnings of his taste for literature, the essay was his favorite form. Dr. Johnson was the prophet of his youth, but he soon transferred his allegiance to Emerson, who for many years remained his "master enchanter." To cure himself of too close an imitation of the Concord seer, which showed itself in his first magazine article, Expression, he took to writing his sketches of nature, and about this time he fell in with the writings of Thoreau, which doubtless confirmed and encouraged him in this direction.
Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers But of all authors and of all men, Walt Whitman, in his personality and as a literary force, seems to have made the profoundest impression upon Mr. Burroughs, though doubtless Emerson had a greater influence on his style of writing.
Expression appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1860, and most of his contributions to literature have been in the form of papers first published in the magazines, and afterwards collected into books. He more than once paid tribute to his teachers in literature. His first book, now out of print, was Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person, published in 1867; and Whitman: A Study, which appeared in 1896, is a more extended treatment of the man and his poetry and philosophy. Birds and Poets, too, contains a paper on Whitman, entitled The Flight of the Eagle, besides an essay on Emerson, whom he also treated incidentally in his paper, Matthew Arnold on Emerson and Carlyle, in Indoor Studies; and the latter volume contains his essay on Thoreau.
In the autumn of 1863 he went to Washington, and in the following January entered the Treasury Department. He was for some years an assistant in the office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and later chief of the organization division of that Bureau. For some time he was keeper of one of the vaults, and for a great part of the day his only duty was to be at his desk. In these leisure hours his mind traveled off into the country, where his previous life had been spent, and with the help of his pen, always a faithful friend and magician, he lived over again those happy days, now happier still with the glamour of all past pleasures.
An article contributed by him to The Century Magazine for March, 1881, on Broken Banks and Lax Directors, is perhaps the only literary outcome of this occupation, but the keen powers of observation, trained in the field of nature, could not fail to disclose themselves in analyzing columns of figures.
Biographical Sketch After leaving Washington Mr. Burroughs bought a fruit farm at West Park, near Esopus, on the Hudson, and there building his house from the stones found in his fields, has given himself the best conditions for that humanizing of nature which constitutes the charm of his books. His work, which has long found ready acceptance both at home and abroad, is now passing into that security of fame which comes from its entrance into the school-life of American children.
Besides his outdoor sketches and the other papers already mentioned, Mr. Burroughs has written a number of critical essays on life and literature, published in Indoor Studies, and other volumes. He has also taken his readers into his confidence in An Egotistical Chapter, the final one of his Indoor Studies; and in the Introduction to the Riverside Edition of his writings he has given us further glimpses of his private intellectual life.
Probably no other American writer has a greater sympathy with, and a keener enjoyment of, country life in all its phases--farming, camping, fishing, walking--than has John Burroughs. His books are redolent of the soil, and have such "freshness and primal sweetness," that we need not be told that the pleasure he gets from his walks and excursions is by no means over when he steps inside his doors again. As he tells us on more than one occasion, he finds he can get much more out of his outdoor experiences by thinking them over, and writing them out afterwards.
Introduction It is seldom that I find a book so far above children that I cannot share its best thought with them. So when I first took up one of John Burroughs's essays, I at once foresaw many a ramble with my pupils through the enchanted country that is found within its breezy pages. To read John Burroughs is to live in the woods and fields, and to associate intimately with all their little timid inhabitants; to learn that--
"God made all the creatures and gave them our love and our fear,
To give sign, we and they are his children, one family here."
When I came to use Pepacton in my class of the sixth grade, I soon found, not only that the children read better but that they came rapidly to a better appreciation of the finer bits of literature in their regular readers, while their interest in their new author grew quickly to an enthusiasm. Never was a little brother or sister more real to them than was "Peggy Mel" as she rushed into the hive laden with stolen honey, while her neighbors gossiped about it, or the stately elm that played sly tricks, or the log which proved to be a good bedfellow because it did not grumble.
Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers Burroughs's way of investing beasts, birds, insects, and inanimate things with human motives is very pleasing to children. They like to trace analogies between the human and the irrational, to think of a weed as a tramp stealing rides, of Nature as a tell-tale when taken by surprise.
The quiet enthusiasm of John Burroughs's essays is much healthier than the over-wrought dramatic action which sets all the nerves a-quiver,--nerves already stimulated to excess by the comedies and tragedies forced upon the daily lives of children. It is especially true of children living in crowded cities, shut away from the woods and hills, constant witnesses of the effects of human passion, that they need the tonic of a quiet literature rather than the stimulant of a stormy or dramatic one,--a literature which develops gentle feelings, deep thought, and a relish for what is homely and homespun, rather than a literature which calls forth excited feelings.
The essays in this volume are those in which my pupils have expressed an enthusiastic interest, or which, after careful reading, I have selected for future use. I have found in them few pages so hard as to require over much study, or a too frequent use of the dictionary. John Burroughs, more than almost any other writer of the time, has a prevailing taste for simple words and simple constructions. "He that runs may read" him.
I have found many children under eleven years of age who could read a whole page without hesitating. If I discover some words which I foresee will cause difficulty, I place such on the blackboard and rapidly pronounce and explain them before the reading. Generally, however, I find the text the best interpreter of its words. What follows explains what goes before, if the child is led to read on to the end of the sentence. It is a mistake to allow children to be frightened away from choice reading by an occasional hard word. There is no better time than his reading lesson in which to teach a child that the hard things of life are to be grappled with and overcome.
Introduction A mistake also, I think, is that toilsome process of explanation which I sometimes find teachers following, under the impression that it will be "parrot work" (as the stock phrase of the "institutes" has it) for the pupils to read anything which they do not clearly and fully comprehend. Teachers' definitions, in such cases, I have often noticed, are no better than dictionary definitions, and surely everybody knows that few more fruitless things than dictionary definitions are ever crammed into the memory of a child.
Better far give free play to the native intelligence of the child, and trust it to apprehend, though it may not yet comprehend nor be able to express its apprehension in definition. On this subject I am glad to quote so high an authority as Sir Walter Scott: "Indeed I rather suspect that children derive impulses of a powerful and important kind from reading things which they do not comprehend, and therefore that to write down to children's understanding is a mistake. Set them on the scent and let them puzzle it out."
From time to time I have allowed my pupils to give me written reports from memory of these essays, and have often found these little compositions sparkling with pleasing information, or full of that childlike fun which is characteristic of the author. I have marked the errors in these exercises, and have given them back to the children to rewrite. Sometimes the second papers show careful correction--and sometimes the mistakes are partially neglected. Very often the child wishes to improve on the first composition, and so adds new blunders as well as creates new interest.
There is a law of self-preservation in Nature, which takes care of mistakes. Every human soul reaches toward the light in the most direct path open to it, and will correct its own errors as soon as it is developed far enough. There is no use in trying to force maturity; teachers who trouble children beyond all reason, and worry over their mistakes, are fumbling at the roots of young plants that will grow if they are let alone long enough.
The average mechanical work (spelling, construction of sentences, writing, etc.) is better under this method than when more time is devoted to the mechanics and less to the thought of composition. I have seen many reports of Burroughs's essays from the pens of children more pleasing and reliable than the essays of some professional reviewers; in these papers I often find the children adding little suggestions of their own; as, "Do birds dream?" One of the girls says her bird "jumps in its sleep." A little ten year old writes, "Weeds are unuseful flowers," and, "I like this book because there are real things in it." Another thinks she "will look more carefully" if she ever gets out into the country again. For the development of close observation and good feeling toward the common things of life, I know of no writings better than those of John Burroughs.
MARY E. BURT
JONES SCHOOL, CHICAGO, Sept. 1, 1887.
PART 1: About Birds
Chapter 1: Bird Enemies How surely the birds know their enemies! See how the wrens and robins and bluebirds pursue and scold the cat, while they take little or no notice of the dog! Even the swallow will fight the cat, and, relying too confidently upon its powers of flight, sometimes swoops down so near to its enemy that it is caught by a sudden stroke of the cat's paw. The only case I know of in which our small birds fail to recognize their enemy is furnished by the shrike; apparently the little birds do not know that this modest-colored bird is an assassin. At least, I have never seen them scold or molest him, or utter any outcries at his presence, as they usually do at birds of prey. Probably it is because the shrike is a rare visitant, and is not found in this part of the country during the nesting season of our songsters.
But the birds have nearly all found out the trick the jay, and when he comes sneaking through the trees in May and June in quest of eggs, he is quickly exposed and roundly abused. It is amusing to see the robins hustle him out of the tree which holds their nest. They cry "Thief, thief!" to the top of their voices as they charge upon him, and the jay retorts in a voice scarcely less complimentary as he makes off.
Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers The jays have their enemies also, and need to keep an eye on their own eggs. It would be interesting to know if jays ever rob jays, or crows plunder crows; or is there honor among thieves even in the feathered tribes? I suspect the jay is often punished by birds which are otherwise innocent of nest-robbing. One season I found a jay's nest in a small cedar on the side of a wooded ridge. It held five eggs, every one of which had been punctured. Apparently some bird had driven its sharp beak through their shells, with the sole intention of destroying them, for no part of the contents of the eggs had been removed. It looked like a case of revenge; as if some thrush or warbler, whose nest had suffered at the hands of the jays, had watched its opportunity, and had in this way retaliated upon its enemies. An egg for an egg. The jays were lingering near, very demure and silent, and probably ready to join a crusade against nest-robbers.
The great bugaboo of the birds is the owl. The owl snatches them from off their roosts at night, and gobbles up their eggs and young in their nests. He is a veritable ogre to them, and his presence fills them with consternation and alarm.
One season, to protect my early cherries I placed a large stuffed owl amid the branches of the tree. Such a racket as there instantly began about my grounds is not pleasant to think upon! The orioles and robins fairly "shrieked out their affright." The news instantly spread in every direction, and apparently every bird in town came to see that owl in the cherry-tree, and every bird took a cherry, so that I lost more fruit than if I had left the owl in-doors. With craning necks and horrified looks the birds alighted upon the branches, and between their screams would snatch off a cherry, as if the act was some relief to their outraged feelings.
Bird Enemies The chirp and chatter of the young of birds which build in concealed or in closed places, like the woodpeckers, the house wren, the high-hole, the oriole, is in marked contrast to the silence of the fledglings of most birds that build open and exposed nests. The young of the sparrows,--unless the social sparrow be an exception,--warblers, fly-catchers, thrushes, never allow a sound to escape them; and on the alarm note of their parents being heard, sit especially close and motionless, while the young of chimney swallows, woodpeckers, and orioles are very noisy. The latter, in its deep pouch, is quite safe from birds of prey, except perhaps the owl. The owl, I suspect, thrusts its leg into the cavities of woodpeckers and into the pocket-like nest of the oriole, and clutches and brings forth the birds in its talons. In one case which I heard of, a screech-owl had thrust its claw into a cavity in a tree, and grasped the head of a red-headed woodpecker; being apparently unable to draw its prey forth, it had thrust its own round head into the hole, and in some way became fixed there, and had thus died with the woodpecker in its talons.
The life of birds is beset with dangers and mishaps of which we know little. One day, in my walk, I came upon a goldfinch with the tip of one wing securely fastened to the feathers of its rump, by what appeared to be the silk of some caterpillar. The bird, though uninjured, was completely crippled, and could not fly a stroke. Its little body was hot and panting in my hands, as I carefully broke the fetter. Then it darted swiftly away with a happy cry. A record of all the accidents and tragedies of bird life for a single season would show many curious incidents. A friend of mine opened his box-stove one fall to kindle a fire in it, when he beheld in the black interior the desiccated forms of two bluebirds. The birds had probably taken refuge in the
Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers chimney during some cold spring storm, and had come down the pipe to the stove, from whence they were unable to ascend. A peculiarly touching little incident of bird life occurred to a caged female canary. Though unmated, it laid some eggs, and the happy bird was so carried away by her feelings that she would offer food to the eggs, and chatter and twitter, trying, as it seemed, to encourage them to eat! The incident is hardly tragic, neither is it comic.
Certain birds nest in the vicinity of our houses and outbuildings, or even in and upon them, for protection from their enemies, but they often thus expose themselves to a plague of the most deadly character.
I refer to the vermin with which their nests often swarm, and which kill the young before they are fledged. In a state of nature this probably never happens; at least I have never seen or heard of it happening to nests placed in trees or under rocks. It is the curse of civilization falling upon the birds which come too near man. The vermin, or the germ of the vermin, is probably conveyed to the nest in hen's feathers, or in straws and hairs picked up about the barn or hen-house. A robin's nest upon your porch or in your summer-house will occasionally become an intolerable nuisance from the swarms upon swarms of minute vermin with which it is filled. The parent birds stem the tide as long as they can, but are often compelled to leave the young to their terrible fate.
One season a phoebe-bird built on a projecting stone under the eaves of the house, and all appeared to go well till the young were nearly fledged, when the nest suddenly became a bit of purgatory. The birds kept their places in their burning bed till they could hold no longer, when they leaped forth and fell dead upon the ground.
Bird Enemies After a delay of a week or more, during which I imagine the parent birds purified themselves by every means known to them, the couple built another nest a few yards from the first, and proceeded to rear a second brood; but the new nest developed into the same bed of torment that the first did, and the three young birds, nearly ready to fly, perished as they sat within it. The parent birds then left the place as if it had been accursed.
I imagine the smaller birds have an enemy in our native white-footed mouse, though I have not proof enough to convict him. But one season the nest of a chickadee which I was observing was broken up in a position where nothing but a mouse could have reached it. The bird had chosen a cavity in the limb of an apple-tree which stood but a few yards from the house. The cavity was deep, and the entrance to it, which was ten feet from the ground, was small. Barely light enough was admitted, when the sun was in the most favorable position, to enable one to make out the number of eggs, which was six, at the bottom of the dim interior. While one was peering in and trying to get his head out of his own light, the bird would startle him by a queer kind of puffing sound. She would not leave her nest like most birds, but really tried to blow or scare the intruder away; and after repeated experiments I could hardly refrain from jerking my head back when that little explosion of sound came up from the dark interior. One night, when incubation was about half finished, the nest was harried. A slight trace of hair or fur at the entrance led me to infer that some small animal was the robber. A weasel might have done it, as they sometimes climb trees, but I doubt if either a squirrel or a rat could have passed the entrance.
The Tragedles of tbe Nests The life of the birds, especially of our migratory song-birds, is a series of adventures and of hair-breadth escapes by flood and field. Very few of them probably die a natural death, or even live out half their appointed days. The home instinct is strong in birds as it is in most creatures; and I am convinced that every spring a large number of those which have survived the Southern campaign return to their old haunts to breed.
A Connecticut farmer took me out under his porch, one April day, and showed me a phoebe bird's nest six stories high. The same bird had no doubt returned year after year; and as there was room for only one nest upon her favorite shelf, she had each season reared a new superstructure upon the old as a foundation. I have heard of a white robin--an albino--that nested several years in succession in the suburbs of a Maryland city. A sparrow with a very marked peculiarity of song I have heard several seasons in my own locality.
But the birds do not all live to return to their old haunts: the bobolinks and starlings run a gauntlet of fire from the Hudson to the Savannah, and the robins and meadow-larks and other song-birds are shot by boys and pot-hunters in great numbers,--to say nothing of their dan-
Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers ger from hawks and owls. But of those that do return, what perils beset their nests, even in the most favored localities! The cabins of the early settlers, when the country was swarming with hostile Indians, were not surrounded by such dangers. The tender households of the birds are not only exposed to hostile Indians in the shape of cats and collectors, but to numerous murderous and bloodthirsty animals, against whom they have no defense but concealment. They lead the darkest kind of pioneer life, even in our gardens and orchards, and under the walls of our houses. Not a day or a night passes, from the time the eggs are laid till the young are flown, when the chances are not greatly in favor of the nest being rifled and its contents devoured,--by owls, skunks, minks, and coons at night, and by crows, jays, squirrels, weasels, snakes, and rats during the day.
Infancy, we say, is hedged about by many perils; but the infancy of birds is cradled and pillowed in peril. An old Michigan settler told me that the first six children that were born to him died; malaria and teething invariably carried them off when they had reached a certain age; but other children were born, the country improved, and by and by the babies weathered the critical period and the next six lived and grew up. The birds, too, would no doubt persevere six times and twice six times, if the season were long enough, and finally rear their family, but the waning summer cuts them short, and but a few species have the heart and strength to make even the third trial.
The first nest-builders in spring, like the first settlers near hostile tribes, suffer the most casualties. A large portion of the nests of April and May are destroyed; their enemies have been many months without eggs and their appetites are keen for them. It is a time, too, when other food is scarce, and the crows and squirrels are hard put. But the second nests of June, and still more the nests of July and August, are seldom molested. It is rarely that the nest of the goldfinch or the cedar-bird is harried.
My neighborhood on the Hudson is perhaps exceptionally unfavorable as a breeding haunt for birds, owing to the abundance of fish-crows and of red squirrels; and the season of which this chapter is mainly a chronicle, the season of 1881, seems to have been a black-letter one even for this place, for at least nine nests out of every ten that I observed during that spring and summer failed of their proper issue.
From the first nest I noted, which was that of a bluebird,--built (very imprudently I thought at the time) in a squirrel-hole in a decayed apple-tree, about the last of April, and which came to naught, even the mother-bird, I suspect, perishing by a violent death,--to the last, which was that of a
The Tragedies of the Nets snow-bird, observed in August, among the Catskills, deftly concealed in a mossy bank by the side of a road that skirted a wood, where the tall thimble blackberries grew in abundance, from which the last young one was taken, when it was about half grown, by some nocturnal walker or daylight prowler, some untoward fate seemed hovering about them.
It was a season of calamities, of violent deaths, of pillage and massacre, among our feathered neighbors. For the first time I noticed that the orioles were not safe in their strong, pendent nests. Three broods were started in the apple-trees, only a few yards from the house, where, for previous seasons, the birds had nested without molestation; but this time the young were all destroyed when about half grown. Their chirping and chattering, which was so noticeable one day, suddenly ceased the next. The nests were probably plundered at night, and doubtless by the little red screech-owl, which I know is a denizen of these old orchards, living in the deeper cavities of the trees. The owl could alight on the top of the nest, and easily thrust his murderous claw down into its long pocket and seize the young and draw them forth.
The tragedy of one of the nests was heightened, or at least made more palpable, by one of the half-fledged birds, either in its attempt to escape or while in the clutches of the enemy, being caught and entangled in one of the horse-hairs by which the nest was stayed and held to the limb above. There it hung bruised and dead, gibbeted to its own cradle. This nest was the theatre of another little tragedy later in the season. Sometime in August a bluebird, indulging its propensity to peep and pry into holes and crevices, alighted upon it and probably inspected the interior; but by some unlucky move it got its wings entangled in this same fatal horse-hair. Its efforts to free itself appeared only to result in its being more securely and hopelessly bound; and there it perished; and there its form, dried and embalmed by the summer heats, was yet hanging in September, the outspread wings and plumage showing nearly as bright as in life.
A correspondent writes me that one of his orioles got entangled in a cord while building her nest, and that though by the aid of a ladder he reached and liberated her, she died soon afterward. He also found a "chippie" (called also "hair bird") suspended from a branch by a horse-hair, beneath a partly constructed nest. I heard of a cedar-bird caught and destroyed in the same way, and of two young bluebirds, around whose legs a horse-hair had become so tightly wound that the legs withered up and dropped off. The birds became fledged, and left the nest with the others. Such tragedies are probably quite common.
Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers Before the advent of civilization in this country, the oriole probably built a much deeper nest than it usually does at present. When now it builds in remote trees and along the borders of the woods, its nest, I have noticed, is long and gourd-shaped; but in orchards and near dwellings it is only a deep cup or pouch. It shortens it up in proportion as the danger lessens. Probably a succession of disastrous years, like the one under review, would cause it to lengthen it again beyond the reach of owl's talons or jay-bird's beak.
The first song-sparrow's nest I observed in the spring of 1881 was in the field under a fragment of a board, the board being raised from the ground a couple of inches by two poles. It had its full complement of eggs, and probably sent forth a brood of young birds, though as to this I cannot speak positively, as I neglected to observe it further. It was well sheltered and concealed, and was not easily come at by any of its natural enemies, save snakes and weasels.
But concealment often avails little. In May, a song-sparrow, that had evidently met with disaster earlier in the season, built its nest in a thick mass of woodbine against the side of my house, about fifteen feet from the ground. Perhaps it took the hint from its cousin, the English sparrow. The nest was admirably placed, protected from the storms by the overhanging eaves and from all eyes by the thick screen of leaves. Only by patiently watching the suspicious bird, as she lingered near with food in her beak, did I discover its whereabouts. That brood is safe, I thought, beyond doubt.
But it was not; the nest was pillaged one night, either by an owl, or else by a rat that had climbed into the vine, seeking an entrance to the house. The mother-bird, after reflecting upon her ill-luck about a week, seemed to resolve to try a different system of tactics and to throw all appearances of concealment aside. She built a nest few yards from the house beside the drive, upon a smooth piece of greensward. There was not a weed or a shrub or anything whatever to conceal it or mark its site. The structure was completed and incubation had begun before I discovered what was going on.
"Well, well," I said, looking down upon the bird almost at my feet, "this is going to the other extreme indeed; now, the cats will have you." The desperate little bird sat there day after day, looking like a brown leaf pressed down in the short green
The Tragedies of the Nets grass. As the weather grew hot, her position became very trying. It was no longer a question of keeping the eggs warm, but of keeping them from roasting. The sun had no mercy on her, and she fairly panted in the middle of the day. In such an emergency the male robin has been known to perch above the sitting female and shade her with his outstretched wings. But in this case there was no perch for the male bird, had he been disposed to make a sunshade of himself. I thought to lend a hand in this direction myself, and so stuck a leafy twig beside the nest. This was probably an unwise interference; it guided disaster to the spot; the nest was broken up, and the mother-bird was probably caught, as I never saw her afterward.
For several previous summers a pair of kingbirds had reared, unmolested, a brood of young in an apple-tree, only a few yards from the house; but during this season disaster overtook them also. The nest was completed, the eggs laid, and incubation had begun, when, one morning about sunrise, I heard cries of distress and alarm proceed from the old apple-tree. Looking out of the window I saw a crow, which I knew to be a fish-crow, perched upon the edge of the nest, hastily bolting the eggs. The parent birds, usually so ready for the attack, seemed over-come with grief and alarm. They fluttered about in the most helpless and bewildered manner, and it was not till the robber fled on my approach that they recovered themselves and charged upon him. The crow scurried away with upturned, threatening head, the furious kingbirds fairly upon his back. The pair lingered around their desecrated nest for several days, almost silent, and saddened by their loss, and then disappeared. They probably made another trial elsewhere.
The fish-crow only fishes when it has destroyed all the eggs and young birds it can find. It is the most despicable thief and robber among our feathered creatures. From May to August, it is gorged with the fledglings of the nest. It is fortunate that its range is so limited. In size it is smaller than the common crow, and is a much less noble and dignified bird. Its caw is weak and feminine--a sort of split and abortive caw, that stamps it the sneak-thief it is. This crow is common farther south, but is not found in this State, so far as I have observed, except in the valley of the Hudson.
Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers
14 One season a pair of them built a nest in a Norway Spruce that stood amid a dense growth of other ornamental trees near a large unoccupied house. They sat down amid plenty. The wolf established himself in the fold. The many birds--robins, thrushes, finches, vireos, pewees--that seek the vicinity of dwellings (especially of these large country residences with their many trees and park-like grounds), for the greater safety of their eggs and young, were the easy and convenient victims of these robbers. They plundered right and left, and were not disturbed till their young were nearly fledged, when some boys, who had long before marked them as their prize, rifled the nest.
The song-birds nearly all build low; their cradle is not upon the tree-top. It is only birds of prey that fear danger from below more than from above, and that seek the higher branches for their nests. A line five feet from the ground would run above more than half the nests, and one ten feet would bound more than three fourths of them. It is only the oriole and the wood pewee that, as a rule, go higher than this. The crows and jays and other enemies of the birds have learned to explore this belt pretty thoroughly. But the leaves and the protective coloring of most nests baffle them as effectually, no doubt as they do the professional oölogist.
The nest of the red-eyed vireo is one of the most artfully placed in the wood. It is just beyond the point where the eye naturally pauses in its search; namely, on the extreme end of the lowest branch of the tree, usually four or five feet from the ground. One looks up and down through the tree,--shoots his eye-beams into it as he might discharge his gun at some game hidden there, but the drooping tip of that low horizontal branch--who would think of pointing his piece just there? If a crow or other marauder were to alight upon the branch or upon those above it, the nest would be screened from him by the large leaf that usually forms a canopy immediately above it. The nest-hunter standing at the foot of the tree and looking straight before him, might discover it easily, were it not for its soft, neutral gray tint which blends so thoroughly with the trunks and branches of trees. Indeed, I think there is no nest in the woods--no arboreal nest--so well concealed.
The last one I saw was a pendent from the end of a low branch of a maple, that nearly grazed
The Tragedies of the Nets the clapboards of an unused hay-barn in a remote backwoods clearing. I peeped through a crack and saw the old birds feed the nearly fledged young within a few inches of my face. And yet the cow-bird finds this nest and drops her parasitical egg in it. Her tactics in this as in other cases are probably to watch the movements of the parent bird. She may often be seen searching anxiously through the trees or bushes for a suitable nest, yet she may still oftener be seen perched upon some good point of observation watching the birds as they come and go about her.
There is no doubt that, in many cases, the cow-bird makes room for her own illegitimate egg in the nest by removing one of the bird's own. When the cow-bird finds two or more eggs in a nest in which she wishes to deposit her own, she will remove one of them. I found a sparrow's nest with two sparrow's eggs and one cow-bird's egg, another egg lying a foot or so below it on the ground. I replaced the ejected egg, and the next day found it again removed, and another cow-bird's egg in its place; I put it back the second time, when it was again ejected, or destroyed, for I failed to find it anywhere. Very alert and sensitive birds like the warblers often bury the strange egg beneath a second nest built on top of the old.
A lady, living in the suburbs of an eastern city, one morning heard cries of distress from a pair of house-wrens that had a nest in a honeysuckle on her front porch. On looking out of the window, she beheld this little comedy--comedy from her point of view, but no doubt grim-tragedy from the point of view of the wrens; a cow-bird with a wren's egg in its beak running rapidly along the walk with the outraged wrens forming a procession behind it, screaming, scolding, and gesticulating as only these voluble little birds can. The cow-bird had probably been surprised in the act of violating the nest, and the wrens were giving her a piece of theirs minds.
I5 PART 2: About Bees
An Idyll of the Honey Bee There is no creature with which man has surrounded himself that seems so much like a product of civilization, so much like the result of development on special lines and in special fields, as the honey-bee. Indeed, a colony of bees, with their neatness and love of order, their division of labor, their public spiritedness, their thrift, their complex economies and their inordinate love of gain, seems as far removed from a condition of rude nature as does a walled city or a cathedral town.
Our native bee, on the other hand, "the burly, dozing humble-bee," affects one more like the rude, untutored savage. He has learned nothing from experience. He lives from hand to mouth. He luxuriates in time of plenty, and he starves in times of scarcity. He lives in a rude nest or in a hole in the ground, and in small communities; he builds a few deep cells or sacks in which he stores a little honey and bee-bread for his young, but as a worker in wax he is of the most and awkward.
The Indian regarded the honey-bee as an ill-omen. She was the white man's fly. In primitive fact she was the epitome of the white man himself. She has the white man's crafti-
Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers ness, his industry, his architectural skill, his neatness and love of system, his foresight; and above all his eager, miserly habits. The honeybee's great ambition is to be rich, to lay up great stores, to possess the sweet of every flower that blooms. She is more than provident. Enough will not satisfy her, she must have all she can get by hook or by crook. She comes from the oldest country, Asia, and thrives best in the most fertile and long-settled lands.
Yet the fact remains that the honey-bee is essentially a wild creature, and never has been and cannot be thoroughly domesticated. Its proper home is the woods, and thither every new swarm counts on going; and thither many do go in spite of the care and watchfulness of the bee-keeper. If the woods in any given locality are deficient in trees with suitable cavities, the bees resort to all sorts of makeshifts; they go into chimneys, into barns and outhouses, under stones, into rocks, and so forth. Several chimneys in my locality with disused flues are taken possession of by colonies of bees nearly every season.
One day, while bee-hunting, I developed a line that went toward a farm-house where I had reason to believe no bees were kept. I followed it up and questioned the farmer about his bees. He said he kept no bees, but that a swarm had taken possession of his chimney, and another had gone under the clapboards in the gable end of his house. He had taken a large lot of honey out of both places the year before. Another farmer told me that one day his family had seen a number of bees examining a knot-hole in the side of his house; the next day as they were sitting down to dinner their attention was attracted by a loud humming noise, when they discovered a swarm of bees settling upon the side of the house and pouring into the knot-hole. In subsequent years other swarms came to the same place.
An Idyll of the Honey Bee Apparently, every swarm of bees before it leaves the parent hive sends out exploring parties to look up the future home. The woods and groves are searched through and through, and no doubt the privacy of many a squirrel and many a wood mouse is intruded upon. What cozy nooks and retreats they do spy out, so much more attractive than the painted hive in the garden, so much cooler in summer and so much warmer in winter!
The bee is in the main an honest citizen; she prefers legitimate to illegitimate business; she is never an outlaw until her proper sources of supply fail; she will not touch honey as long as honey-yielding flowers can be found; she always prefers to go to the fountain-head, and dislikes to take her sweets at second hand. But in the fall, after the flowers have failed, she can be tempted. The bee-hunter takes advantage of this fact; he betrays her with a little honey. He wants to steal her stores, and he first encourages her to steal his, then follows the thief home with her booty. This is the whole trick of the bee-hunter. The bees never suspect his game, else by taking a circuitous route they could easily baffle him. But the honey-bee has absolutely no wit or cunning outside of her special gifts as a gatherer and storer of honey. She is a simple-minded creature, and can be imposed upon by any novice.
Yet it is not every novice that can find a bee-tree. The sportsman may track his game to its retreat by the aid of his dog, but in hunting the honey-bee one must be his own dog, and track his game through an element in which it leaves no trail. It is a task for a sharp, quick eye, and may test the resources of the best wood-craft. One autumn when I devoted much time to this pursuit, as the best means of getting at nature and the open-air exhilaration, my eye became so trained that bees were nearly as easy to it as birds. I saw and heard bees wherever I went. One day, standing on a street corner in a great city, I saw above the trucks and the traffic a line of bees carrying off sweets from some grocery or confectionery shop.
Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers One looks upon the woods with a new interest when he suspects they hold a colony of bees. What a pleasing secret it is; a tree with a heart of comb-honey, a decayed oak or maple with a bit of Sicily or Mount Hymettus stowed away in its trunk or branches; secret chambers where lies hidden the wealth of ten thousand little freebooters, great nuggets and wedges of precious ore gathered with risk and labor from every field and wood about.
But if you would know the delights of bee-hunting, and how many sweets such a trip yields beside honey, come with me some bright, warm, late September or early October day. It is the golden season of the year, and any errand or pursuit that takes us abroad upon the hills or by the painted woods and along the amber colored streams at such a time is enough. So, with haversacks filled with grapes and peaches and apples and a bottle of milk,--for we shall not be home to dinner,--and armed with a compass, a hatchet, a pail, and a box with a piece of comb-honey neatly fitted into it--any box the size of your hand with a lid will do nearly as well as the elaborate and ingenious contrivance of the regular bee-hunter--we sally forth.
Our course at first lies along the highway, under great chestnut-trees whose nuts are just dropping, then through an orchard and across a little creek, thence gently rising through a long series of cultivated fields toward some high, uplying land, behind which rises a rugged wooded ridge or mountain, the most sightly point in all this section. Behind this ridge for several miles the country is wild, wooded, and rocky, and is no doubt the home of many wild swarms of bees. What a gleeful uproar the robins, cedar-birds, high-holes, and cow black-birds make amid the black cherry-trees as we pass along. The raccoons, too, have been here after black cherries, and we see their marks at various points. Several crows are walking about a newly sowed wheat field we pass through, and we pause to note their graceful movements and glossy coats.
I have seen no bird walk the ground with just the same air the crow does. It is not exactly pride; there is no strut or swagger in it, though perhaps just a little condescension; it is the contented,
An Idyll of the Honey Bee complaisant, and self-possessed gait of a lord over his domains. All these acres are mine, he says, and all these crops; men plow and sow for me, and I stay here or go there, and find life sweet and good wherever I am. The hawk looks awkward and out of place on the ground; the game birds hurry and skulk, but the crow is at home and treads the earth as if there were none to molest him or make him afraid.
The crows we have always with us, but it is not every day or every season that one sees an eagle. Hence I must preserve the memory of one I saw the last day I went bee-hunting. As I was laboring up the side of a mountain at the head of a valley, the noble bird sprang from the top of a dry tree above me and came sailing directly over my head. I saw him bend his eye down upon me, and I could hear the low hum of his plumage, as if the web off every quill in his great wings vibrated in his strong, level flight. I watched him as long as my eye could hold him. When he was fairly clear of the mountain he began that sweeping spiral movement in which he climbs the sky. Up and up he went without once breaking his majestic poise till he appeared to sight some far-off alien geography, when he bent his course thitherward and gradually vanished in the blue depths.
The eagle is a bird of large ideas, he embraces long distances; the continent is his home. I never look upon one without emotion; I follow him with my eye as long as I can. I think of Canada, of the Great Lakes, of the Rocky Mountains, of the wild and sounding sea-coast. The waters are his, and the woods and the inaccessible cliffs. He pierces behind the veil of the storm, and his joy is height and depth and vast spaces.
The Pastoral Bees The honey-bee goes forth from the hive in spring like the dove from Noah's ark, and it is not till after many days that she brings back the olive leaf, which in this case is a pellet of golden pollen upon each hip, usually obtained from the alder or the swamp willow. In a country where maple sugar is made, the bees get their first taste of sweet from the sap as it flows from the spiles, or as it dries and is condensed upon the sides of the buckets. They will sometimes, in their eagerness, come about the boiling place and be overwhelmed by the steam and the smoke. But bees appear to be more eager for bread in the spring than for honey; their supply of this article, perhaps, does not keep as well as their stores of the latter, hence fresh bread, in the
Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers shape of new pollen, is diligently sought for. My bees get their first supplies from the catkins of the willows. How quickly they find them out. If but one catkin opens anywhere within range, a bee is on hand that very hour to rifle it, and it is a most pleasing experience to stand near the hive some mild April day and see them come pouring in with their little baskets packed with this first fruitage of the spring. They will have new bread now; they have been to mill in good earnest; see their dusty coats, and the golden grist they bring home with them.
When a bee brings pollen into the hive, he advances to the cell in which it is to be deposited and kicks it off as one might his overalls or rubber boots, making one foot help the other; then he walks off without ever looking behind him; another bee, one of the indoor hands, comes along and rams it down with his head and packs it into the cell as the dairymaid packs butter into a firkin.
The first spring wild-flowers, whose shy faces among the dry leaves and rocks are so welcome, yield no honey. The anemone, the hepatica, the bloodroot, the arbutus, the numerous violets, the spring beauty, the corydalis, etc., woo lovers of nature, but do not woo the honey-loving bee. It requires more sun and warmth to develop the saccharine element, and the beauty of these pale striplings of the woods and groves is their sole and sufficient excuse for being. The arbutus, lying low and keeping green all winter, attains to perfume, but not to honey.
The first honey is perhaps obtained from the flowers of the red maple and the golden willow. The latter sends forth a wild, delicious perfume. The sugar maple blooms a little later, and from its silken tassels a rich nectar is gathered. My bees will not label these different varieties for me as I really wish they would. Honey from the maples, a tree so clean and wholesome, and full of such virtues every way, would be something to put one's tongue to. Or that from the blossoms of the apple, the peach, the cherry, the quince, the currant,--one would like a card of each of these varieties to note their peculiar qualities. The apple-blossom is very important to the bees. A
The Pastoral Bees single swarm has been known to gain twenty pounds in weight during its continuance. Bees love the ripened fruit, too, and in August and September will suck themselves tipsy upon varieties such as the sops-of-wine.
The interval between the blooming of the fruit-trees and that of the clover and the raspberry is bridged over in many localities by the honey locust. What a delightful summer murmur these trees send forth at this season. I know nothing about the quality of the honey, but it ought to keep well. But when the red raspberry blooms, the fountains of plenty are unsealed indeed; what a commotion about the hives then, especially in localities where it is extensively cultivated, as in places along the Hudson. The delicate white clover, which begins to bloom about the same time, is neglected; even honey itself is passed by for this modest colorless, all but odorless flower. A field of these berries in June sends forth a continuous murmur like that of an enormous hive. The honey is not so white as that obtained from clover but it is easier gathered; it is in shallow cups while that of the clover is in deep tubes. The bees are up and at it before sunrise, and it takes a brisk shower to drive them in. But the clover blooms later and blooms everywhere, and is the staple source of supply of the finest quality of honey.
The red clover yields up its stores only to the longer proboscis of the bumble-bee, else the bee pasturage of our agricultural districts would be unequaled. I do not know from what the famous honey of Chamouni in the Alps is made, but it can hardly surpass our best products. The snow-white honey of Anatolia in Asiatic Turkey, which is regularly sent to Constantinople for the use of the grand seignior and the ladies of his seraglio, is obtained from the cotton plant, which makes me think that the white clover does not flourish these. The white clover is indigenous with us; its seeds seem latent in the ground, and the application of certain stimulants to the soil, such as wood ashes, causes them to germinate and spring up.
Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers The rose, with all its beauty and perfume, yields no honey to the bee, unless the wild species be sought by the bumble-bee.
Among the humbler plants, let me not forget the dandelion that so early dots the sunny slopes, and upon which the bee languidly grazes, wallowing to his knees in the golden but not over-succulent pasturage. From the blooming rye and wheat the bee gathers pollen, also from the obscure blossoms of Indian corn. Among weeds, catnip is the great favorite. It lasts nearly the whole season and yields richly. It could no doubt be profitably cultivated in some localities, and catnip honey would be a novelty in the market. It would probably partake of the aromatic properties of the plant from which it was derived.
Among your stores of honey gathered before midsummer, you may chance upon a card, or mayhap only a square inch or two of comb, in which the liquid is as transparent as water, of a delicious quality, with a slight flavor of mint. This is the product of the linden or basswood, of all the trees in our forest the one most beloved by the bees. Melissa, the goddess of honey, has placed her seal upon this tree. The wild swarms in the woods frequently reap a choice harvest from it. I have seen a mountain side thickly studded with it, its straight, tall, smooth, light-gray shaft carrying its deep-green crown far aloft, like the tulip-tree or the maple.
In some of the Northwestern States there are large forests of it, and the amount of honey reported stored by strong swarms in this section during the time the tree is in bloom is quite incredible. As a shade and ornamental tree the linden is fully equal to the maple, and if it were as extensively planted and cared for, our supplies of virgin honey would be greatly increased. The famous honey of Lithuania in Russia is the product of the linden.
The Pastoral Bees It is a homely old stanza current among bee folk that--
"A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon;
But a swarm in July
Is not worth a fly."
A swarm in May is indeed a treasure; it is, like an April baby, sure to thrive, and will very likely itself send out a swarm a month or two later; but a swarm in July is not to be despised; it will store no clover or linden honey for the "grand seignior and the ladies of his seraglio," but plenty of the rank and wholesome poor man's nectar, the sun-tanned product of the plebeian buckwheat. Buckwheat honey is the black sheep in this white flock, but there is spirit and character in it. It lays hold of the taste in no equivocal manner, especially when at a winter breakfast it meets its fellow, the russet buckwheat cake. Bread with honey to cover it from the same stalk is double good fortune. It is not black, either, but nut-brown, and belongs to the same class of goods as Herrick's
"Nut-brown mirth and russet wit."
How the bees love it, and they bring the delicious odor of the blooming plant to the hive with them, so that in the moist warm twilight the apiary is redolent with the perfume of buckwheat.
Yet evidently it is not the perfume of any flower that attracts the bees; they pay no attention to the sweet-scented lilac, or to heliotrope, but work upon sumach, silkweed, and the hateful snapdragon. In September they are hard pressed, and do well if they pick up enough sweet to pay the running expenses of their establishment. The purple asters and the golden-rod are about all that remain to them.
PART 3: Sharp Eyes and Other Papers 5
Sbarp Eyes Noting how one eye seconds and reinforces the other, I have often amused myself by wondering what the effect would be if one could go on opening eye after eye to the number say of a dozen or more. What would he see? Perhaps not the invisible--not the odors of flowers nor the fever germs in the air--not the infinitely small of the microscope nor the infinitely distant of the telescope. This would require, not more eyes so much as an eye constructed with more and different lenses; but would he not see with augmented power within the natural limits of vision? At any rate some persons seem to have opened more eyes than others, they see with such force and distinctness; their vision penetrates the tangle and obscurity where that of others fails like a spent or impotent bullet. How many eyes did Gilbert White open? how many did Henry
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Works by the Author American naturalist and essayist John Burroughs (April 3, 1837 - March 29, 1921) was important in the evolution of the early US conservation movement and became a virtual cultural institution in his own right.
Many of Burroughs' essays first appeared in popular magazines. He is best-known for his observations on birds, flowers and rural scenes, but his essay topics also range to religion, philosophy, and literature. Burroughs was a staunch defender of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, but somewhat critical of Henry David Thoreau. His achievements as a writer were confirmed by his election as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
The Complete Writings of John Burroughs totals 23 volumes. The first volume, Wake-Robin, was published in 1871 and subsequent volumes were published regularly until the final volume, The Last Harvest, was published in 1922. The final two volumes, Under the Maples and The Last Harvest, were published posthumously by Clara Barrus. Burroughs also published a biography of John James Audubon, a memoir of his camping trip to Yellowstone with President Theodore Roosevelt, and one volume of poetry titled Bird and Bough.
Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes, and Other Papers Works by John Burroughs * Notes on Walt Whitman as Poet and Person (1867)
* Wake Robin (187l)
* Winter Sunshine (1875)
* Birds and Poets (1877)
* Locusts and Wild Honey (1879)
* Pepacton (1881)
* Fresh Fields (1884)
* Signs and Seasons (1886)
* Birds and bees and other studies in nature (1896)
* Indoor Studies (1889)
* Riverby (1894)
* Whitman: A Study (1896)
* The Light of Day (1900)
* Squirrels and Other Fur-Bearers (1900)
* Songs of Nature (Editor) (1901)
* John James Audubon (1902)
* Literary Values and other Papers (1902)
* Far and Near (1904)
* Ways of Nature (1905)
* Camping and Tramping with Roosevelt (1906)
* Bird and Bough (1906)
* Afoot and Afloat (1907)
* Leaf and Tendril (1908)
* Time and Change (1912)
* The 5ummit of the Years (1913)
* The Breath of Life (1915)
* Under the Apple Trees (1916)
* Field and Study (1919)
* Accepting the Universe (1920)
* Under the Maples (1921)
* The Last Harvest (I922)
* My Boyhood, with a Conclusion by His Son Julian Burroughs (1922)