December Out-of-Doors

“ December ’s as pleasant as May.”

Old Hymn.

FOR a month so almost universally spoken against, November commonly brings more than its full proportion of fair days; and last year (1888) this proportion was, I think, even greater than usual. On the 1st and 5th I heard the peeping of hylas ; Sunday, the 4th, was enlivened by a farewell visitation of bluebirds; during the first week, at least four sorts of butterflies — Disippus, Philodice, Antiopa, and Comma — were on the wing, and a single Philodice (our common yellow butterfly) was flying as late as the 16th. Wild flowers of many kinds — not less than a hundred, certainly — were in bloom; among them the exquisite little pimpernel, or poor man’s weather-glass. My daily notes are full of complimentary allusions to the weather. Once in a while it rained, to be sure, and under date of the 6th I find this record, — “ Everybody complaining of the heat; ” but as terrestrial matters go, the month was remarkably propitious up to the 25th. Then, all without warning, — unless possibly from the pimpernel, which nobody heeded, — a violent snow-storm descended upon us. Railway travel and telegraphic communication were seriously interrupted, while from up and down the coast came stories of shipwreck and loss of life. Winter was here in earnest ; for the next three months good walking days would be few.

December opened with a mild gray morning. The snow had already disappeared, leaving only the remains of a drift here and there in the lea of a stone-wall; the ground was saturated with water; every meadow was like a lake ; and but for the greenness of the fields in a few favored spots, the season might have been late March instead of early December. Of course such hours were never meant to be wasted within doors. So I started out, singing as I went, —

“ While God invites, how blest the day ! ”

But the next morning was pleasant likewise ; and the next; and still the next ; and so the story went on, till in the end, omitting five days of greater or less inclemency, I had spent nearly the entire month in the open air. I could hardly have done better had I been in Florida.

All my neighbors pronounced this state of things highly exceptional ; many were sure they had never known the like. At the time I fully agreed with them. Now, however, looking back over my previous year’s notes, I come upon such entries as these : “ December 3d. The day has been warm. Found chickweed and knawel in bloom, and an old garden was full of freshlooking pansies.” “4th. A calm, warm morning.” “5th. Warm and rainy.” “ 6th. Mild and bright.” “ 7th. A most beautiful winter day, mild and calm, ” “ 8th. Even milder and more beautiful than yesterday.” “11th. Weather very mild since last entry. Pickering hylas peeping to-day.” “12th. Still very warm ; hylas peeping in several places.” “ 13th. Warm and bright.” “14th. If possible, a more beautiful day than yesterday.”

So much for December, 1887. Its unexpected good behavior would seem to have made a profound impression upon me; no doubt I promised never to forget it; yet twelve months later traditionary notions had resumed their customary sway, and every pleasant morning took me by surprise.

The winter of 1888-89 will long be famous in the ornithological annals of New England as the winter of killdeer plovers. I have mentioned the great storm of November 25th-27th. On the first pleasant morning afterwards — on the 28th, that is — my out-of-door comrade and I made an excursion to Nahant. The land - breeze had already beaten down the surf, and the turmoil of the waters was in great part stilled ; but the beach was strewn with sea-weeds and eel-grass, and withal presented quite a holiday appearance. From one motive and another, a considerable proportion of the inhabitants of the city had turned out. The principal attraction, as far as we could perceive, was a certain bigclam, of which great numbers had been cast up by the tide. Baskets and wagons were being filled ; some of the men carried off shells and all, while others, with a celerity which must have been the result of much practice, were cutting out the plump dark bodies, leaving the shells in heaps upon the sand. The collectors of these molluscan dainties knew them as quahaugs, and esteemed them accordingly ; but my companion, a connoisseur in such matters, pronounced them not the true quahaug (Venus mercenaria, — what a profanely ill-sorted name, even for a bivalve!), but the larger and coarser Cyprina islandica. The man to whom we imparted this precious bit of esoteric lore received it like a gentleman, if I cannot add like a scholar. “ We call them quahaugs,” he answered, with an accent of polite deprecation, as if it were not in the least to be wondered at that he should be found in the wrong. It was evident, at the same time, that the question of a name did not strike him as of any vital consequence. Venus mercenaria or Cyprina islandica, the savoriness of the chowder was not likely to be seriously affected.

It was good, I thought, to see so many people out-of-doors. Most of them had employment in the shops, probably, and on grounds of simple economy, so called, would have been wiser to have stuck to their lasts. But man, after all that civilization has done for him (and against him), remains at heart a child of nature. His ancestors may have been shoemakers for fifty generations, but none the less he feels an impulse now and then to quit his bench and go hunting, though it be only for a mess of clams.

Leaving the crowd, we kept on our way across the beach to Little Nahant, the cliffs of which offer an excellent position from which to sweep the bay in search of loons, old-squaws, and other sea-fowl. Here we presently met two gunners. They had been more successful than most of the sportsmen that one falls in with on such trips; between them they had a guillemot, two horned larks, and a brace of large plovers, of some species unknown to us, but noticeable for their bright cinnamon-colored rumps. " Why could n’t we have found those plovers, instead of that fellow ? ” said my companion, as we crossed the second beach. I fear he was envious at the prosperity of the wicked. But it was only a passing cloud ; for on reaching the main peninsula we were speedily arrested by loud cries from a piece of marsh, and after considerable wading and a clamber over a detestable barbedwire fence, such as no rambler ever encountered without at least a temptation to profanity, we caught sight of a flock of about a dozen of the same unknown plovers. This was good fortune indeed. We had no firearms, nor even a pinch of salt, and coming shortly to a ditch, too wide for leaping and too deep for cold-weather fording, we were obliged to content ourselves with opera-glass inspection. Six of the birds were grouped in a little plot of grass, standing motionless, like so many robins. Their novelty and their striking appearance, with two conspicuous black bands across the breast, their loud cries, and their curious movements and attitudes were enough to drive a pair of enthusiasts half crazy. We looked and looked, and then reluctantly turned away. On getting home we had no difficulty in determining their identity, and each at once sent off to the other the same verdict, — “ killdeer plover.”

This, as I say, was on the 28th of November. On the 3d of December we were again at Nahant, eating our luncheon upon the veranda of some rich man’s deserted cottage, and at the same time enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful scene.

It was a summery spot; moths were flitting about us, and two grasshoppers leaped out of our way as we crossed the lawn. They showed something less than summer liveliness, it is true ; it was only afterwards, and by way of contrast, that I recalled Leigh Hunt’s

“ Green little vaulter in the sunny grass,
Catching his heart up at the feel of June.”

But they had done well, surely, to weather the recent snow-storm and the low temperature; for the mercury had been down to 10° within a fortnight, and a large snow-bank was still in sight against the wall. Suddenly a close flock of eight or ten birds flew past us and disappeared behind the hill. “Pigeons?” said my companion. I thought not; they were sea-birds of some kind. Soon we heard killdeer cries from the beach, and, looking up, saw the birds, three of them, alighting on the sand. We started down the hill in haste, but just at that moment an old woman, a miserable gatherer of drift rubbish, walked directly upon them, and they made off. Then we saw that our “pigeons,” or “sea-birds,” had been nothing but killdeer plovers, which, like other long-winged birds, look much larger in the air than when at rest. Returning towards Lynn, later in the afternoon, we came upon the same three birds again ; this time feeding among the boulders at the end of the beach. We remarked once more their curious, silly-looking custom of standing stockstill with heads indrawn. But our own attitudes, as we also stood stock-still with glasses raised, may have looked, in their eyes, even more singular and meaningless. As we turned away — after flushing them two or three times to get a view of their pretty cinnamon rumpfeathers — a sportsman came up, and proved to be the very man on whose belt we had seen our first killdeers, a week before. We left him doing his best to bag these three also. He will never read what I write, and I need not scruple to confess that, seeing his approach, we purposely startled the birds as badly as possible, hoping to see them make off over the hill, out of harm’s way. But the foolish creatures could not take the hint, and alighted again within a few rods, at the same time calling loudly enough to attract the attention of the gunner, who up to this moment had not been aware of their presence. He fired twice before we got out of sight, but, to judge from his motions, without success. A man’s happiness is perhaps of more value than a plover’s, though I do not see how we are to prove it; but my sympathies, then as always, were with the birds.

Within a week or so I received a letter from Mrs. Celia Thaxter, together with a wing, a foot, and one cinnamon feather. “ By this wing which I send you,” she began, “ can you tell me the name of the bird that owned it ? ” Then, after some description of the plumage, she continued: “ In the late tremendous tempest myriads of these birds settled on the Isles of Shoals, filling the air with a harsh, shrill, incessant cry, and not to be driven away by guns or any of man’s inhospitable treatment. Their number was so great as to be amazing, and they had never been seen before by any of the present inhabitants of the Shoals. They are plovers of some kind, I should judge, but I do not know.” On the 16th she wrote again : “ All sorts of strange things were cast up by the storm, and the plovers were busy devouring everything they could find; always running, chasing each other, very quarrelsome, fighting all the time. They were in poor condition, so lean that the men did not shoot them after the first day, a fact which gives your correspondent great satisfaction. They are still there! My brother came from the Shoals yesterday, and says that the place is alive with them, all the seven islands.”

Similar facts were reported — as I began in one way and another to learn — from different points along the coast; especially from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where hundreds of the birds were seen on the 28th and 29th of November. The reporter of this item 1 pertinently adds : “ Such a flight of killdeer in Maine — where the bird is well known to be rare — has probably not occurred before within the memory of living sportsmen.” Here, as at the Isles of Shoals, the visitors were at first easily shot (they are not counted among game birds where they are known, on account of their habitual leanness, I suppose) ; but they had landed upon inhospitable shores, and were not long in becoming aware of their misfortune. In the middle of December one of our Cambridge ornithologists went to Cape Cod on purpose to find them. He saw about sixty birds, but by this time they were so wild that he succeeded in getting only a single specimen. “ Poor fellows ! ” he wrote me; “ they looked unhappy enough, that cold Friday, with the mercury at 12° and everything frozen stiff. Most of them were on hillsides and in the hollows of pastures; a few were in the salt marshes, and one or two on the beach.” Nobody expected them to remain hereabouts, as they normally winter in the West Indies and in Central and South America ; 2 but every little while Mrs. Thaxter wrote, “The killdeers are still here ! ” and on the 21st of December, as I approached Marblehead Neck, I saw a bird skimming over the ice that covered the small pond back of the beach. I put up my glass and said to myself, “A killdeer plover! ” There proved to be two birds. They would not suffer me within gunshot, — though I carried no gun, — but flew off into some ploughed ground, with their usual loud vociferations. (The killdeer is aptly named Ægialitis vocifera.)

During the month with the history of which we are now especially concerned, I saw nothing more of them; but by way of completing the story I may add that on the 28th of January, in this same spot, I found a flock of seven, and there they remained. I visited them four times in February and once in March, and found them invariably in the same place. Evidently they had no idea of making another attempt to reach the West Indies for this season; and if they were to remain in our latitude, they could hardly have selected a more desirable location. The marsh, or meadow, was sheltered and sunny, while the best protected corner was at the same time one of those peculiarly springy spots in which the grass keeps green the winter through. Here, then, these seven wayfarers stayed week after week. Whenever I stole up cautiously and peeped over the bank into their verdant hiding-place, I was sure to hear the familiar cry ; and directly one bird, and then another, and another, would start up before me, disclosing the characteristic brown feathers of the lower back. They commonly assembled in the middle of the marsh upon the snow or ice, where they stood for a little, bobbing their heads in mutual conference, and then flew off over the house and over the orchard, calling as they flew.

Throughout December, and indeed throughout the winter, brown creepers and red-bellied nuthatches were surprisingly abundant. Every pine wood seemed to have its colony of them. Whether the extraordinary mildness of the season had anything to do with this I cannot say; but their presence was welcome, whatever the reason for it. Like the chickadee, with whom they have the good taste to be fond of associating, they are always busy and cheerful, appearing not to mind either snow-storm or low temperature. No reasonable observer would ever tax them with effeminacy, though the creeper, it must be owned, cannot speak without lisping.

Following my usual practice, I began a catalogue of the month’s birds, and at the end of a fortnight discovered, to my astonishment, that the name of the downy woodpecker was missing. He had been common during November, and is well known as one of our familiar winter residents. I began forthwith to keep a sharp lookout for him, particularly whenever I went near any apple orchard. A little later, I actually commenced making excursions on purpose to find him. But the fates were against me, and go where I would, he was not there. At last I gave him up. Then, on the 27th, as I sat at my desk, a chickadee chirped outside. Of course I looked out to see him ; and there, exploring the branches of an old appletree, directly under my window, was the black-and-white woodpecker for whom I had been searching in vain through five or six townships. The saucy fellow ! He rapped smartly three or four times; then he straightened himself back, as woodpeckers do, and said : “ Good-morning, sir ! Where have you been so long ? If you wish to see me, you had better stay at home.” He might have spoken a little less pertly ; for after all, if a man would know what is going on, whether in summer or winter, he must not keep too much in his own door-yard. Of the thirty birds in my December list, I should have seen perhaps ten if I had sat all the time at my window, and possibly twice that number had I confined my walks within the limits of my own town.

While the migration is going on, to be sure, one may find birds in the most unexpected places. Last May I glanced up from my book and espied an olivebacked thrush in the back yard, foraging among the currant-bushes. Raising a window quietly, I whistled something like an imitation of his inimitable song; and the little traveler — always an easy dupe — pricked up his ears, and presently responded with a strain which carried me straight into the depths of a White Mountain forest. But in December, with some exceptions, of course, birds must be sought after rather than waited for. The 15th, for example, was a most uncomfortable day, — so uncomfortable that I stayed in-doors, — the mercury only two or three degrees above zero, and a strong wind blowing. Such weather would drive the birds under shelter. The next forenoon, therefore, I betook myself to a hill covered thickly with pines and cedars. Here I soon ran upon several robins, feeding upon the savin berries, and in a moment more was surprised by a tseep so loud and emphatic that I thought at once of a fox sparrow. Then I looked for a song sparrow, — badly startled, perhaps, — but found to my delight a white-throat. He was on the ground, but at my approach flew into a cedar. Here he drew in his head and sat perfectly still, the picture of discouragement. I could not blame him, but was glad, an hour later, to find him again on the ground, picking up his dinner. I leveled my glass at him and whistled his Peabody song (the simplest of all bird songs to imitate), but he moved not a feather. Apparently he had never heard it before ! He was still there in the afternoon, and I had hopes of his remaining through the winter; but I never could find him afterwards. Ten days prior to this I had gone to Longwood on a special hunt for this same sparrow, remembering a certain peculiarly cozy hollow where, six or eight years before, a little company of song sparrows and white-throats had passed a rather severe winter. The song sparrows were there again, as I had expected, but no whitethroats. The song sparrows, by the way, treated me shabbily this season. A year ago several of them took up their quarters in a roadside garden patch, where I could look in upon them almost daily. This year there were none to be discovered anywhere in this neighborhood. They figure in my December list on four days only, and were found in four different towns, — Brookline (Longwood), Marblehead, Nahant, and Cohasset. Like some others of our land birds (notably the golden-winged woodpecker and the meadow lark), they seem to have learned that winter loses a little of its rigor along the sea-board.

Three kinds of land birds were met with at Nahant Beach, and nowhere else : the Ipswich sparrow, — on the 3d and 26th, — the snow bunting, and the horned lark. Of the last two species, — both of them rather common in November, — I saw but one individual each. They were feeding side by side, and, after a short separation, — under the fright into which my sudden appearance put them, — one called to the other, and they flew off in company towards Lynn. It was a pleasing display of sociability, but nothing new; for in winter, as every observer knows, birds not of a feather flock together. The Ipswich sparrow, a very retiring but not peculiarly timid creature, I have now seen at Nahant in every one of our six colder months, — from November to April, — though it is unquestionably rare upon the Massachusetts coast between the fall and spring migrations. Besides the species already named, my monthly list included the following: herring gull, great blackbacked gull, ruffed grouse, hairy woodpecker, flicker, goldfinch, tree sparrow, snowbird, blue jay, crow, shrike, whitebellied nuthatch (only two or three birds), golden-crowned kinglet, and one small hawk.3

The only birds that sang during the month — unless we include the redbellied nuthatches, whose frequent quaint twitterings should, perhaps, come under this head — were the chickadees and a single robin. The former I have down as uttering their sweet phœbe whistle — which I take to be certainly their song, as distinguished from all their multifarious calls — on seven of the thirty-one days. They were more tuneful in January, and still more so in February; so that the titmouse, as becomes a creature so full of good humor and high spirits, may fairly be said to sing all winter long. The robin’s music was a pleasure quite unexpected. I was out on Sunday, the 30th, for a few minutes’ stroll before breakfast, when the obliging stranger (I had not seen a robin for a fortnight, and did not see another for nearly two months) broke into song from a hill-top covered with pitch-pines. He was in excellent voice, and sang again and again. The morning invited music, — warm and cloudless, like an unusually fine morning in early April.

For an entire week, indeed, the weather had seemed to be trying to outdo itself. I remember in particular the day before Christmas. I rose long before daylight, crossed the Mystic River marshes as the dawn was beginning to break, and shortly after sunrise was on my way down the South Shore. Leaving the cars at Cohasset, I sauntered over the Jerusalem Road to Nantasket, spent a little while on the beach, and brought up at North Cohasset, where I was attracted by a lonesome - looking road running into the woods all by itself, with a guide-board marked “ Turkey Hill.” Why not accept the pleasing invitation, which seemed meant on purpose for just such an idle pedestrian as myself ? As for Turkey Hill, I had never heard of it, and presumed it to be some uninteresting out-lying hamlet. My concern, as a saunterer’s ought always to be, was with the road itself, not with what might lie at the end of it. I did not discover my mistake till I had gone half a mile, more or less, when the road all at once turned sharply to the right and commenced ascending. Then it dawned upon me that Turkey Hill must be no other than the long, gradual, grassy slope at which I had already been looking from the railway station. The prospect of sea and land was beautiful; all the more so, perhaps, because of a thick autumnal haze. It might be called excellent Christmas weather, I said to myself, when a naturally prudent man, no longer young, could sit perched upon a fence rail at the top of a hill, drinking in the beauties of the landscape.

At the station, after my descent, I met a young man of the neighborhood. “ Do you know why they call that Turkey Hill ? ” said I. “ No, sir, I don’t,” he answered. I suggested that probably somebody had killed a wild turkey up there at some time or other. He looked politely incredulous. “ I don’t think there are any wild turkeys up there,” said he ; “ I never saw any.” He was not more than twenty-five years old, and the last Massachusetts turkey was killed on Mount Tom in 1847, so that I had no doubt he spoke the truth. Probably he took me for a simple-minded fellow, while I thought nothing worse of him than that he was one of those people, so numerous and at the same time so much to be pitied, who have never studied ornithology.

The 25th was warmer even than the 24th ; and it, likewise, I spent upon the South Shore, though at a point somewhat farther inland, and in a town where I was not likely to lose myself, least of all in any out-of-the-way woodland road. In short, I spent Christmas on my native heath, — a not inappropriate word, by the bye, for a region so largely grown up to huckleberry bushes. “ Holbrook’s meadows ” and “ Norton pasture ” ! — the names are not to be found on any map, and will convey no meaning to my readers; but in my ears they awaken memories of many and many a sunny hour. On this holiday I revisited them both. Warm as it was, boys and girls were skating on the meadows (in spite of their name, these have been nothing but a pond for as long as I can remember), and I stood awhile by the old Ross cellar, watching their evolutions. How bright and cheery it was in the little sheltered clearing, with nothing in sight but the leafless woods and the ice-covered pond ! “Sha’n’t I take your coat ? ” the sun seemed to be asking. At my elbow stood a bunch of lilac bushes (“ laylocks ” they were probably called by the man who set them out 4) that had blossomed freely in the summer. The house has been gone for these thirty years or more (alas! my sun must be rapidly declining when memory casts so long a shadow), but these bushes seem likely to hold their own for at least a century. They might have prompted a wise man to some wise reflections; but for myself, it must be acknowledged, I fell instead to thinking how many half days I had fished — and caught nothing, or next to nothing — along this same pleasant, willow-bordered shore.

In Norton pasture, an hour or two later, I made myself young again by putting a few checkerberries into my mouth ; and in a small new clearing just over the brook (“ Dyer’s Run,” this used to be called, but I fear the name is falling into forgetfulness) I stumbled upon a patch of some handsome evergreen shrub, which I saw at once to be a novelty. I took it for a member of the heath family, but it proved to belong with the hollies, — Ilex glabra, or inkberry, a plant not to be found in the county where it is my present lot to botanize. So, even on my native heath, I had discovered something new.

The flora of a Massachusetts December is of necessity limited. Even in the month under review, singularly favorable as it was, I found but sixteen sorts of wild blossoms; a small number, surely, though perhaps larger by sixteen than the average reader would have guessed. The names of these hardy adventurers must by no means go unrecorded : shepherd’s purse, wild pepper-grass, pansy, common chickweed (Stellariamedia), mouse-ear chickweed (Cerastium viscosum), knawel, common mallow, witch-hazel, cinque-foil (Potentilla Norvegica, — not argentea, as I should certainly have expected), many-flowered aster, cone-flower, yarrow, two kinds of groundsel, fall dandelion, and jointweed. Six of these — mallow, cinque-foil, aster, cone-flower, fall dandelion, and jointweed — were noticed only at Nahant; and it is further to be said that the jointweed was found by a friend, not by myself, while the cone-flower was not in strictness a blossom ; that is to say, its rays were well opened, making what in common parlance is called a flower, but the true florets were not yet perfected. Such witch-hazel blossoms as can be gathered in December are of course nothing but belated specimens. I remarked a few on the 2d, and again on the 10th; and on the afternoon of Christmas, happening to look into a hamamelis-tree, I saw what looked like a flower near the top. The tree was too small for climbing and almost too large for bending, but I managed to get it down ; and sure enough, the bit of yellow was indeed a perfectly fresh blossom. How did it know I was to pass that way on Christmas afternoon, and by what sort of freemasonry did it attract my attention? I loved it and left it on the stalk, in the true Emersonian spirit, and here I do my little best to embalm its memory.

One of the groundsels (Senecio viscosus) is a recent immigrant from Europe, but has been thoroughly established in the Back Bay lands of Boston — where I now found it, in perfect condition, December 4th — for at least half a dozen years. In Gray’s Flora of North America it is said to grow there and in the vicinity of Providence; but since that account was written it has made its appearance in Lowell, and probably in other places. It is a coarselooking little plant, delighting to grow in pure gravel; but its blossoms are pretty, and now, with not another flower of any sort near it, it looked, as the homely phrase is, “ as handsome as a picture.” Its more generally distributed congener, Senecio vulgaris, — also a foreigner — is, next to the common chickweed, I should say, our very hardiest bloomer. At the beginning of the month it was in flower in an old garden in Melrose ; and at Marblehead Neck a considerable patch of it was fairly yellow with blossoms all through December and January, and I know not how much longer. I saw no shepherd’s purse after December 27th, but knawel was in flower as late as January 18th. The golden-rods, it will be observed, are absent altogether from my list; and the same would have been true of the asters, but for a single plant. This, curiously enough, still bore five heads of tolerably fresh blossoms, after all its numberless companions, growing upon the same hillside, had succumbed to the frost.

Of my sixteen plants, exactly one half are species that have been introduced from Europe ; six are members of the composite family ; and if we omit the cone-flower, all but three of the entire number are simple whites and yellows. Two red flowers, the clover and the pimpernel, disappointed my search ; but the blue hepatica would almost certainly have been found, had it come in my way to look for it.

Prettier even than the flowers, however, was the December greenness, especially of the humbler sorts : St.John’s wort, five-finger, the creeping blackberries, — whose modest winter loveliness was never half appreciated, — herb-robert, corydalis, partridge-berry, checkerberry, winter-green, rattlesnake-plantain, veronica, and linnæa, to say nothing of the ferns and mosses. Most refreshing of all, perhaps, was an occasional patch of bright green grass, like the one already spoken of, at Marblehead, or like one even brighter and prettier, which I visited more than once in Swampscott.

As I review what I have written, I am tempted to exclaim with Tennyson :

“ And was the day of my delight
As pure and perfect as I say ? ”

But I answer, in all good conscience, yes. The motto with which I began states the truth somewhat strongly, perhaps (it must be remembered where I got it), but aside from that one bit of harmless borrowed hyperbole, I have delivered a plain, unvarnished tale. For all that, however, I do not expect my industrious fellow-citizens to fall in at once with my opinion that winter is a pleasant season at the seashore (it would be too bad they should, as far as my own enjoyment is concerned), and December a month propitious for leisurely all-day rambles. How foreign such notions are to people in general I have lately had several forcible reminders. On one of my jaunts from Marblehead to Swampscott, for example, I had finally taken to the railway, and was in the narrow, tortuous cut through the ledges, when, looking back, I saw a young gentleman coming along after me. He was in full skating rig, fur cap and all, with a green bag in one hand and a big hockey stick in the other. I stopped every few minutes to listen for any bird that might chance to be in the woods on either hand, and he could not well avoid overtaking me, though he seemed little desirous of doing so. The spot was lonesome, and as he went by, and until he was some rods in advance, he kept his head partly turned. There was no mistaking the significance of that furtive, sidelong glance ; he had read the newspapers, and did n’t intend to be attacked from behind unawares! If he should ever cast his eye over these pages (and whatever he may have thought of my appearance, I am bound to say of him that he looked like a man who might appreciate good literature), he will doubtless remember the incident, especially if I mention the field-glass which I carried slung over one shoulder. Evidently the world sees no reason why a man with anything better to do should be wandering aimlessly about the country in midwinter. Nor do I quarrel with the world’s opinion. The majority is wiser than the minority, of course ; otherwise, what becomes of its divine and inalienable right to lay down the law ? The truth with me was that I had nothing better to do. I confess it without shame. Surely there is no lack of shoemakers. Why, then, should not here and there a man take up the business of walking, of wearing out shoes ? Everything is related to everything else, and the selfsame power that brought the killdeers to Marblehead sent me there to see them and do them honor. Should it please the gods to order it so, I shall gladly be kept running on such errands for a score or two of winters.

Bradford Torrey.

  1. Mr. N. C. Brown, in the Auk, January, 1889, page 69.
  2. It seems probable that the birds started from some point in the Southern States for a long southward flight, or perhaps for the West Indies, on the evening of November 24th, and on getting out to sea were caught by the great gale, which whirled them northward over the Atlantic, landing them — such of them, that is, as were not drowned on the way — upon the coast of New England. The grounds for such an opinion are set forth by Dr. Arthur P. Chadbourne in the Auk for July, 1889, page 255.
  3. To this list Mr. Walter Faxon, my ornithological comrade before mentioned, added seven species, namely : white-winged scoter, barred owl, cowbird, purple finch, white-winged crossbill, fox sparrow, and winter wren. Between us. as far as land birds went, we did pretty well.
  4. So they were called, too, by that lover of flowers, Walter Savage Landor, who, as his biographer says, followed a pronunciation “traditional in many old English families.”