A Nook in the Alleghanies
MY spring campaign in Virginia was planned in the spirit of the old war-time bulletin, “All quiet on the Potomac ; ” happiness was to be its end, and idleness its means ; and so far, at least, as my stay at Pulaski was concerned, this peaceful design was well carried out. There was nothing there to induce excessive activity: no glorious mountain summit whose daily beckoning must sooner or later be heeded; no long forest roads of the kind that will not let a man’s imagination alone till he has seen the end of them. The town itself is small and compact, so that it was no great jaunt, even in sunny weather, to get away from it in any direction, — an unusual piece of good fortune, highly appreciated by a walking naturalist in our Southern country, — and such woods as especially invited exploration lay close at hand. In short, it was a place where, even to the walking naturalist aforesaid, it was easy to go slowly, and to spend a due share of every day in sitting still, which latter occupation, so it be engaged in neither upon a piazza nor on a lawn, is one of the best uses of those fullest parts of a busy man’s life, his so-called vacations.
The measure of my indolence may be estimated from the fact that the one really picturesque road in the neighborhood was left undiscovered till nearly the last day of my sojourn. It takes its departure from the village1 within a quarter of a mile of the hotel, and the friendly manager of the house, who seemed himself to have some idea of such pleasures as I was in quest of, commended its charms to me very shortly after my arrival. So I recollected afterward, but for the time I somehow allowed the significance of his words to escape me, else I should, no doubt, have traveled the road again and again. As things were, I spent but a single forenoon upon it, and went only as far as the “ height of land.”
The mountain road, as the townspeople call it, runs over the long ridge which fills the horizon east of Pulaski, and down into the valley on the other side. It has its beginning, at least, in a gap similar in all respects to the one, some half a mile to the northward, into which I had so many times followed a footpath, as already fully set forth. The traveler has first to pass half a dozen or more of cabins, where, if he is a stranger, he will probably find himself watched out of sight with flattering unanimity by the curious inmates. In my time, at all events, a solitary foot-passenger seemed to be regarded as nothing short of a phenomenon. What was more agreeable, I met here a little procession of liappy-looking black children returning to the town loaded with big branches of flowering apple-trees ; a sight which for some reason put me in mind of a child, a tiny thing,— a veritable pickaninny, — whom I had passed, some years before, near Tallahassee, and who pleased me by exclaiming to a companion, as a dove cooed in the distance, “Listen dat mournin’ dove ! ” I wondered whether such children, living nearer to nature than some of us, might not be peculiarly susceptible to natural sights and sounds.
Before one of the last cabins stood three white children, and as they gazed at me fixedly I wished them “ Goodmorning;” but they stared and answered nothing. Then, when I had passed, a woman’s sharp voice called from within, “ Why don’t you speak when anybody speaks to you ? I’d have some manners, if I was you.” And I perceived that if the boys and girls were growing up in rustic diffidence (not the most illmannered condition in the world, by any means), it was not for lack of careful maternal instruction.
This gap, like its fellow, had its own brook, which after a time the road left on one side, and began climbing the mountain by a steeper and more direct course than the water had followed. Here were more of the rare hastateleaved violets, and another bunch of the barren strawberry, with hepatica, fringed polygala, mitrewort, bloodroot, and a pretty show of a remarkably large and handsome chickweed, of which I had seen much also in other places, — Stellaria pubera, or “great chickweed,” as I made it out.
I was admiring these lowly beauties as I idled along (there was little else to admire just then, the wood being scrubby and the ground lately burned over), when I came to a standstill at the sound of a strange song from the bushy hillside a few paces behind me. The bird, whatever it was, had let me go by, — as birds so often do,— and then had broken out into music. I turned back at once, and made short work of the mystery, — a worm-eating warbler. Thanks to the fire, there was no cover for it, had it desired any. I had seen a bird of the same species a few days previously on the opposite side of the town, — looking like a red-eyed vireo rigged out with a fanciful striped head-dress, — and sixteen years before I had fallen in with a few specimens in the District of Columbia, but this was my first hearing of the song. The queer little creature was picking about the ground, feeding, but every minute or two mounted some low perch, — a few inches seemed to satisfy its ambition,— and delivered itself of a simple, short trill, similar to the pine warbler’s for length and form, but in a guttural voice decidedly unlike the pine warbler’s clear, musical whistle. It was not a very pleasing song, in itself considered, but I was very much pleased to hear it; for let the worldly-minded say what they will, a new bird-song is an event. With a single exception, it was the only new one, I believe, of my Virginia trip.
The worm-eating warbler, it may be worth while to add, is one of the less widely known members of its numerous family; plainness itself in its appearance, save for its showy cap, and very lowly and sedate in its habits. The few that I have ever had sight of, perhaps a dozen in all, have been on the ground or close to it, though one, I remember, was traveling about the lower part of a tree-trunk after the manner of a black-and-white creeper; and all observers, so far as I know, agree in pronouncing the song an exceptionally meagre and dry affair. Ordinarily it has been likened to that of the chipper, but my bird had nothing like the chipper’s gift of continuance.
This worm-eater’s song must count as the best ornithological incident of the forenoon, since nothing else is quite so good as absolute novelty ; but I was glad also to see for the first time hereabouts four commoner birds, — the pileated woodpecker, the sapsucker (yellow-bellied woodpecker), the rose-breasted grosbeak, and the black-throated blue warbler. I had undertaken a local list, of course,— a lazier kind of collecting,— and so was thankful for small favors. In the way of putting a shine upon common things the collecting spirit is second only to genius. I was glad to see them, I say ; but, to be exact, I saw only three out of the four. The big woodpecker was heard, not seen. And while I stood still, hoping that he would repeat himself, and possibly show himself, I heard a chorus of crossbill notes, — like the cries of barnyard chickens a few weeks old, — and, looking up, descried the authors of them, a flock of ten birds flying across the valley. They were not new, even to my Pulaski notebook, but they gave me, for all that, an exhilarating sensation of unexpectedness. Crossbills are associated in my mind with Massachusetts winters and New Hampshire summers and autumns. On the 30th of April, and in southwestern Virginia,— a long way from New Hampshire to the mind of a creature whose handiest mode of locomotion is by rail, — they seemed out of place and out of season : the more so because, to the best of my knowledge, there were no very high mountains or extensive coniferous forests anywhere in the neighborhood. However, my sensation of surprise, agreeable though it was, and therefore not to be regretted, had, on reflection, no very good reason to give for itself. Crossbills are a kind of gypsies among birds, and one ought not to be astonished, I suppose, at meeting them almost anywhere. Some days after this (May 12), in the national cemetery at Arlington (across the Potomac from Washington), I glanced up into a low spruce-tree in response to the call of an orchard oriole, and there, at work upon the cones, hung a flock of five crossbills, three of them in red plumage. They were feeding, and had no thought of doing anything else. For the half-hour that I stayed by them — some other interesting birds, a true migratory wave, in fact, being near at hand — they remained in that treetop without uttering a syllable ; and two hours later, when I came down the same path again, they had moved hut two trees away, and were still eating in silence, paying absolutely no heed to me as I walked under them. Many kinds of northwardbound migrants were in the cemetery woods. Perhaps these ravenous crossbills 2 were of the party. I took them for stragglers, at any rate, not remembering at the time that birds of their sort are believed to have bred, at least in one instance, within the District of Columbia. Probably they were stragglers, but whether from the forests of the North or from the peaks of the southern Alleghanies is of course a point beyond my ken.
So far as our present knowledge of them goes, crossbills seem in a peculiar sense to be a law unto themselves. In northern New England they are said to lay their eggs in late winter or early spring, when the temperature is liable, or even certain, to run many degrees below zero. Yet, if the notion takes them, a pair will raise a brood in Massachusetts or in Maryland in the midde of May ; which strikes me, I am bound to say, as a far more reasonable and Christian-like proceeding. And the same erratic quality pertains to their ordinary, every-day behavior. Even their simplest flight from one hill to another, as I witnessed it here in Virginia, for example, has an air of being all a matter of chance. Now they tack to the right, now to the left, now in close order, now every one for himself; no member of the flock appearing to know just how the course lies, and all hands calling incessantly, as the only means of coming into port together.
When I spoke just now of the wormeating warbler’s song as almost the only new one heard in Virginia, I ought perhaps to have guarded my words. I meant to say that the worm-eater was almost the only species that I there heard sing for the first time, — a somewhat different matter ; for new songs, happily, — songs new to the individual listener, —are by no means so infrequent as the songs of new birds. On the very forenoon of which I am now writing, I heard another strain that was every whit as novel to my ear as the worm-eater’s, — as novel, indeed, as if it had been the work of some bird from the other side of the planet. Again and again it was given out, at tantalizing intervals, and I could not so much as guess at the identity of the singer ; partly, it may be, because of the feverish anxiety I was in lest he should get away from me in that endless mountain-side forest. Every repetition I thought would be the last, and the bird gone forever. Finally, as I edged nearer and nearer, half a step at once, with infinite precaution, I caught a glimpse of a chickadee. A chickadee ! Could he be doing that ? Yes ; for I watched him, and saw it done. And these were the notes, or the best that my pencil could make of them: twee, twee, twee (very quick), twitty, twitty, — the first measure in a thin, wire - drawn tone, the second a full, clear whistle. Sometimes the three twees were slurred almost into one. Altogether, the effect was most singular. I had never heard anything in the least resembling it, familiar as I had thought myself for some years with the normal four-syllabled song of Parus carolinensis. For the moment I was half disposed to be angry, —so much excitement, and so absurd an outcome ; but on the whole it is very good fun to be fooled in this way by a bird who happens to have invented a time of his own. Besides, we are all believers in originality,— are we not? — whatever our own practice.
Human travelers were infrequent enough to be little more than a welcome diversion : two young men on horseback ; a solitary foot-passenger, who kindly pointed out a trail by which a long elbow in the road could be saved on the descent; and, near the top of the mountain, a four-horse cart, the driver of which was riding one of the wheel-horses. At the summit I chose a seat (not the first one of the jaunt, by any means) and surveyed the valley beyond. It lay directly at my feet, the mountain dropping to it almost at a bound, and the stunted budding trees offered the least possible obstruction to the view. Narrow as the valley was, there was nothing else to be seen in that direction. Immediately behind it dense clouds hung so low that from my altitude there was no looking under them. In one respect it was better so, as sometimes, for the undistracted enjoyment of it, a single painting is better than a gallery.
There was nothing peculiar or striking in the scene, nothing in the slightest degree romantic or extraordinary : a common patch of earth, without so much as the play of sunlight and shadow to set it off; a pretty valley, closely shut in between a mountain and a cloud ; a quiet, grassy place, fenced into small farms, the few scattered houses, perhaps half a dozen, each with its cluster of outbuildings and its orchard of blossoming fruittrees. Here and there cattle were grazing, guinea fowls were calling potrack in tones which not even the magic of distance could render musical, and once the loud baa of a sheep came all the way up the mountain side. If the best reward of climbing be to look afar off, the next best is to look down thus into a tiny valley of a world. In either case, the gazer must take time enough, and be free enough in his spirit, to become a part of what he sees. Then he may hope to carry something of it home with him.
It was soon after quitting the summit, on my return, — for I left the valley a picture (I can see it yet), and turned back by the way I had come, — that I fell in with the grosbeaks before alluded to : a single taciturn female with two handsome males in devoted and tuneful attendance upon her. Happy creature! Among birds, so far as I have ever been able to gather, the gentler and more backward sex have never to wait for admirers. Their only anxiety lies in choosing one rather than another. That, no doubt, must be sometimes a trouble, since, as this imperfect world is constituted, choice includes rejection.
The law is general. Even in the modera pastime which we dignify as the “observation of nature " there is no evading it. If we see one thing, we for that reason are blind to another. I had ascended this mountain road at a snail’s pace, never walking many rods together without a halt, — whatever was to be seen, I meant to see it; yet now, on my way down, my eyes fell all at once upon a bank thickly set with plants quite unknown to me. There they stood, in all the charms of novelty, waiting to be discovered : low shrubs, perhaps two feet in height, of a very odd appearance, — not conspicuous, exactly, but decidedly noticeable, — covered with drooping racemes of small chocolate-colored flowers. They were directly upon the roadside. With half an eye, a man would have found it hard work to miss them. “The observation of nature ” ! Verily it is a great study, and its devotees acquire au amazing sharpness of vision. How many other things, equally strange and interesting, had I left unseen, both going and coming? I ought perhaps to have been surprised and humiliated by such an experience ; but I cannot say that either emotion was what could be called poignant. I have been living with myself for a good many years; and besides, as was remarked just now, all our doings are under the universal law of selection and exclusion. On the whole, I am glad of it. Life will relish the longer for our not finding everything at once.
The identity of the shrub was quickly made out, the vivid yellow of the inner bark furnishing a clue which spared me the labor of a formal “ analysis.” It was Xanthorrhiza apiifolia, shrub yellowroot, — a name long familiar to my eye from having been read so many times in turning the leaves of the Manual, on one hunt and another. With a new song and a new flowering plant, the mountain road had used me pretty well, after all my neglect of it.
My one new bird at Pulaski—and the only one seen in Virginia — was stumbled upon in a grassy field on the farther border of the town. I had set out to spend an hour or two in a small wood beyond the brickyard, and was cutting the corner of a field by a footpath, still feeling myself in the city, and not yet on the alert, when a bird flew up before me, crossed the street, and dropped on the other side of the wall. Half seen as it was, its appearance suggested nothing in particular ; but it seemed not to be an English sparrow, — too common here, as it is getting to be everywhere, — and of course it might be worth attention. It is one capital advantage of being away from home that we take additional encouragement to investigate whatever falls in our way. Before I could get to the wall, however, the bird rose, along with two or three Britishers, and perched before me in a thorn - bush. Then I saw at a glance that it must be a lark sparrow (Chondestes). With those magnificent headstripes it could hardly be anything else. What a prince it looked ! —a prince in most ignoble company. It would have held its rank even among white-crowns, of which it made me think not only by its head - markings, but by its general color and — what was perhaps only the same thing—a certain cleanness of aspect. Presently it flew back to the field out of which I had frightened it; and there in the short grass it continued feeding for a long half-hour, while I stood, glass in hand, ogling it, and making penciled notes of its plumage, point by point, for comparison with Dr. Coues’s description after I should return to the inn. I was almost directly under the windows of a house, — of a Sunday afternoon, — but that did not matter. Two or three carriages passed along the street. but I let them go. A new bird is a new bird. And it must be admitted that neither the occupants of the house nor the people in the carriages betrayed the slightest curiosity as to my unconventional behavior. The bird, for its part, minded me little more. It was engrossed with its dinner, and uttered no sound beyond two or three tseeps, in which I could recognize nothing distinctive. Its silence was a disappointment; and since I could not waste the afternoon in watching a bird, no matter how new and handsome, that would do nothing but eat grass seed (or something else), I finally took the road again and passed on. I did not see it afterward, though, under fresh accessions of curiosity, and for the chance of hearing it sing, I went in search of it twice.
From a reference to Dr. Rives’s Catalogue of the Birds of the Virginias, which I had brought with me, I learned, what I thought I knew already, that the lark sparrow, abundantly at home in the interior of North America, is merely an accidental visitor in Virginia. The only records cited by Dr. Rives are those of two specimens, one captured, the other seen, in and near Washington. It seemed like a perversity of fate that I hardly more than an accidental visitor myself, should he shown a bird which Dr. Rives — the ornithologist of the state, we may fairly call him — had never seen within the state limits. But it was not for me to complain ; and for that matter, it is nothing new to say that it takes a green hand to make discoveries. I knew a man, only a few years ago, who, one season, was so uninstructed that he called me out to see a Henslow’s bunting, which proved to be a song sparrow ; but the very next year he found a snowbird summering a few miles from Boston (there was no mistake this time), — a thing utterly without precedent. In the same way, I knew of one lad who discovered a brown thrasher wintering in Massachusetts, the only recorded instance ; and of another who went to an ornithologist of experience begging him to come into the woods and see a most wonderful many-colored bird, which turned out, to the experienced man’s astonishment, to be nothing less rare than a nonpareil bunting ! Providence favors the beginner, or so it seems ; and the beginner, on his part, is prepared to be favored, because to him everything is worth looking at.
Dr. Rives’s catalogue helped me to a somewhat lively interest in another bird, one so much an old story to me for many years that of itself its presence or absence here would scarcely have received a second thought. I speak of the blue golden-winged warbler. It is common in Massachusetts, — in that part of it, at least, where I happen to live, — and I have found it abundant in eastern Tennessee. That it should he at home here in southwestern Virginia, so near the Tennessee line and in a country so well adapted to its tastes, would have appeared to me the most natural thing in the world. But when I had noted my first specimens — on this same Sunday afternoon — and was back at the hotel, I took up the catalogue to check the name; and there I found the bird entered as a rare migrant, with only one record of its capture in Virginia proper, and that near Washington. Dr. Rives had never met with it!
This was on the 28th of April. Two days later I noticed one or two more, — probably two, but there was no certainty that I had not run upon the same bird twice ; and on the morning of May 1, in a last hurried visit to the woods, I saw two together. All were males in full plumage, and one of the last two was singing. The warbler migration was just coming on, and I could not help believing that with a little time blue golden - wings would grow to be fairly numerous. That, of course, was matter of conjecture. I found no sign of the species at Natural Bridge,which is about a hundred miles from Pulaski in a northeasterly direction. In Massachusetts this beautiful warbler’s distribution is decidedly local, and its commonness is believed to have increased greatly in the last twenty years. Possibly the same may be true in Virginia. Possibly, too, my seeing of five or six specimens, on opposite sides of the city, was nothing but a happy chance, and my inference from it a pure delusion.
I have implied that the warbler migration was approaching its height on the 1st of May. In point of fact, however, the brevity of my visit — and perhaps also its date, neither quite early enough nor quite late enough — rendered it impossible for me to gather much as to the course of this always interesting movement, or even to understand the significance of the little of it that came under my eye. My first day’s walks — very short and altogether at haphazard, and that of the afternoon as good as thrown away — showed but three species of warblers ; an anomalous state of things, especially as two of the birds were the oven-bird and the golden warbler, neither of them to be reckoned among the early comers of the family. The next day I saw six other species, including such prompt ones as the pinecreeper and the myrtle bird, and such a comparatively tardy one as the Blackburnian. On the 26th three additional names were listed,—the blue yellowback, the chestnut-side, and the wormeater. Not until the fourth day was anything seen or heard of the blackthroated green. This fact of itself would establish the worthlessness of any conclusions that might be drawn from the progress of events as I had noted them.
On the 28th, when my first blue golden-wings made their appearance, there were present also in the same place three palm warblers, — my only meeting with them in Virginia, where Dr. Rives marks them “not common.” With them, or in the same small wood, were a group of silent red-eyed vireos, several yellowthroated vireos, also silent, myrtle birds, one or two Blackburnians, one or two chestnut-sides, two or three redstarts, and one oven-bird, with black-and-white creepers, and something like a flock (a rare sight for me) of white-breasted nuthatches, — a typical body of migrants, to which may be added, though less clearly members of the same party, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, white-throated sparrows, Carolina doves, flickers, downy woodpeckers, and brown thrashers.
It is a curious circumstance, universally observed, that warblers, with a few partial exceptions, — blackpolls and myrtle birds especially, — travel thus in mixed companies; so that a flock of twenty birds may be found to contain representatives of six, eight, or ten species. Whatever its explanation, the habit is one to be thankful for from the field student’s point of view. The pleasurable excitement which the semi-annual warbler movement affords him is at least several times greater than it could be if each species made the journey by itself. Every observer must have realized, for example, how comparatively uninteresting the blackpoll migration is, particularly in the autumn. Comparatively uninteresting, I say ; for even with the birch-trees swarming with blackpolls, each exactly like its fellow, the hope, slight as it may be, of lighting upon a stray baybreast among them may encourage a man to keep up his scrutiny, leveling his glass upon bird after bird, looking for a dash of telltale color along the flanks, till at last be says, “ Nothing but blackpolls,” and turns away in search of more stirring adventures.
Students of natural history, like less favored people, should cultivate philosophy ; and the primary lesson of philosophy is to make the best of things as they are. If an expected bird fails us, we are not therefore without resources and compensations ; we may be interested in the fact of its absence ; and so long as we are interested, though it be only in the endurance of privation, life has still something left for us. Herein, in part, lies the value to the traveling student of a local list of the things in his own line. It enables him to keep in view what he is missing, and so to increase the sum of his sensations. One of my surprises at Pulaski (and a surprise is better than nothing, even if it be on the wrong side of the account) was the absence of the phœbe, — “ almost everywhere a common summer resident,” says Dr. Rives. Another unexpected thing was the absence of the white-eyed vireo, — also a “ common summer resident,” — for which portions of the surrounding country seemed to be admirably suited. I should have thought, too, that Carolina wrens would have been here, — a pair or two, at least. As it was, Bewick seemed to have the field mostly to himself, although a house wren was singing on the morning of May 1, and I have already mentioned a winter wren which was seen on three or four occasions. He, however, may be assumed to have taken his departure northward (or southward) very soon after my final sight of him. Thrashers and catbirds are wrens, I know, —though I doubt whether they know it, — but it has not yet become natural for me to speak of them under that designation. The mocking-bird, another big wren, I did not find here, nor had I supposed myself likely to do so. Robins were common, I was glad to see, — one pair were building a nest in the vines of the hotel veranda, — and several pairs of song sparrows appeared to have established themselves along the banks of the creek north of the city. I saw them nowhere else. One need not go much beyond Virginia to find these omnipresent New Englanders endowed with all the attractions of rarity. I remember with what delight, in mid-May, I heard and saw one in North Carolina, very near the South Carolina line, — farther south than any of the books carry birds of his kind, in the breeding season, so far as my reading has gone.
Two or three spotted sandpipers about the stony bed of the creek (a dribbling stream at present, though within a month or so it had carried away bridges and set houses adrift), and a few killdeer plovers there and in the dry fields beyond, were the only water birds seen at Pulaski. One of the killdeers gave me a pretty display of what I took to be his antics as a wooer. I was returning over the grassy hills, where on the way out a colored boy’s dog in advance of me had stirred up several killdeers, when suddenly I heard a strange kind of humming noise, — a sort of double-tonguing, I called it to myself, — and very soon recognized in it, as I thought, something of the killdeer’s vocal quality. Sure enough, as I drew near the place I found the fellow in the midst of a real lover’s ecstasy ; his tail straight in the air, fully spread (the value of the bright cinnamon-colored rump and tail feathers being at once apparent), and he spinning round like a dervish, almost as if standing on his head (it was a wonder how he did it), and all the while emitting that quick throbbing whistle. His mate (that was, or was to be) maintained an air of perfect indifference, — maidenly reserve it might have been called, for aught I know, by a spectator possessed of a charitable imagination, — as female birds generally do in such cases ; unless, as often happens, they repel their adorers with beak and claw. I have seen courtships that looked more ridiculous, because more human-like, — the flicker’s, for example, — but never a crazier one, or one less describable. In the language of the boards, it was a star performance.
The same birds amused me at another time by their senseless conduct in the stony margins of the creek, where they had taken refuge when I pressed them too nearly. There they squatted close among the pebbles, as other plovers do, till it was all but impossible to tell feather from stone, though I had watched the whole proceeding ; yet while they stood thus motionless and practically invisible (no cinnamon color in sight, now !), they could not for their lives keep their tongues still, but every little while uttered loud, characteristic cries. Their behavior was a mixture of shrewdness and stupidity such as even human beings would have been hard put to it to surpass.
Swallows were scarce, almost of course. A few pairs of rough-wings were most likely at home in the city or near it. and more than once two or three barn swallows were noticed hawking up and down the creek. There was small prospect of their settling hereabout, from any indications that I could discover. Chimney swifts, happily, were better provided for ; pretty good substitutes for swallows,— so good, indeed, that people in general do not know the difference. And even an ornithologist maybe glad to confess that the rarity of swallows throughout the Alleghanies is not an unmitigated misfortune, if it be connected in any way with the immunity of the same region from the plague of mosquitoes. It would be difficult to exaggerate the luxury to a dreaming naturalist, used to New England forests, of woods in which he can lounge at his ease, in warm weather, with no mosquito, black fly, or midge — " more formidable than wolves,”as Thoreau says — to disturb his meditations.
By far the most characteristic birds of the city were the Bewick wrens, of whose town-loving habits I have already spoken. Constantly as I heard them, I could never become accustomed to the unwrennish character of their music. Again and again, when the bird happened to be a little way off, so that only the concluding measure of his tune reached me. I caught myself thinking of him as a song sparrow. If I had been in Massachusetts, I should certainly have passed on without a suspicion of the truth.
The tall old rock maples in the hotel yard — decaying at the tops — were occupied by a colony of bronzed grackles, busy and noisy from morning till night; excellent company, as they stalked about the lawn under my windows. In the same trees a gorgeous Baltimore oriole whistled for three or four days, and once I heard there a warbling vireo. Neither oriole nor vireo was detected elsewhere.
Of my seventy - five Pulaski species (April 24-May 1), eighteen were warblers and fifteen belonged to the sparrowfinch family. Six of the seventy-five names were added in a bunch at the very last moment, making me think with lively regret how much more respectable my list would be if I could remain a week or two longer. With my trunk packed and everything ready for my departure, I ran out once more to the border of the woods, at the point where I had first entered them a week before ; and there, in the trees and shrubbery along the brookside path, I found myself all at once surrounded by a most interesting bevy of fresh arrivals, among which a hurried investigation disclosed a scarlet tanager, a humming-bird, a house wren, a chat, a wood pewee, and a Louisiana water thrush. The pewee was calling and the house wren singing (an unspeakable convenience when a man has but ten minutes in which to take the census of a thicket full of birds), and the water thrush, as he flew up the stream, keeping just ahead of me among the rhododendrons, stopped every few minutes to sing his prettiest, as if he were overjoyed to be once more at home after a winter’s absence. I did not wonder at his happiness. The spot had been made for him. I was as sorry to leave it, perhaps, as he was glad to get back to it.
And while I followed the water thrush. Bruce, the hotel collie, my true friend of a week, whose frequent companionship on the mountain road and elsewhere has been too much ignored, was having a livelier chase on his own account, — a chase which I found time to enjoy, for the minute that it lasted, in spite of my preoccupation. He had stolen out of the house by a back door, and followed me to the woods without an invitation, — though he might have had one, since, being non-ornithological in his pursuits, he was never in the way,—and now was thrown into a sudden frenzy by the starting up before him of a rabbit. Hearing his bark, I turned about in season to see the two creatures going at lightning speed up the hillside, the rabbit’s " cotton tail ” (a fine " mark of direction,” as naturalists say) immediately in front of the collie’s nose. Once the rabbit ran plump into a log, and for an instant was fairly off its legs. I trembled for its safety ; but it recovered itself, and in a moment more disappeared from view. Then after a few minutes Bruce came back, panting. It had been a great morning for him as well as for me, — a morning to haunt his after-dinner dreams, and set his legs twitching, for a week to come. I hope he has found many another walking guest and " fellow woodlander ” since then, with whom to enjoy the pleasures of the road and the excitement of the chase.
For myself, there was no leisure for sentiment. I posted back to the inn on the run, and only after hoarding the train was able to make a minute of the good things which the rim of the forest had shown me.
It was quite as well so. With prudent forethought, my farewell to the brook path and the clearing at the head of it had been taken the afternoon before. Here, again, Fortune smiled upon me. After three days of cloudiness and rain the sun was once more shining, and I took my usual seat on the dry grassy knoll among the rusty boulders for a last look at the world about me, — this peaceful, sequestered nook in the Alleghanies, into which by so happy a chance I had wandered on my first morning in Virginia. (How well I remembered the years when Virginia was anything but an abode of quietness!) The arbutus was still in plentiful bloom, and the dwarf fleur-de-lis also. On my way up the slope I had stopped to admire a close bunch of a dozen blossoms. The same soft breeze was blowing, and the same field sparrow chanting. Yes, and the same buzzard floated overhead and dropped the same moving shadow upon the hillside. Now a prairie warbler sang or a hyla peeped, but mostly the air was silent, except for the murmur of pine needles and the faint rustling of dry oak leaves. And all around me stood the hills, the nearest of them, to-day, blue with haze.
For a while I went farther up the slope, to a spot where I could look through a break in the circle and out upon the world. In one direction were green fields and blossoming apple-trees, and beyond them, of course, a wilderness of mountains. But I returned soon to my lower seat. It was pleasanter there, where I was quite shut in. The ground about me was sprinkled with low azalea bushes, unnoticed a week ago, now brightening with clustered pink buds. What a picture the hill would make a few days hence, and again, later still, when the laurel should come into its glory !
Parting is sweet pain. It must be a mark of inferiority, I suppose, to be fonder of places than of persons, — as cats are inferior to dogs. But then, on a vacation one goes to see places. And right or wrong, so it was. Kindly as the hotel people had treated me, — and none could have been kinder or more efficient, — there was nothing in Pulaski that I left with half so much regret, or have remembered half so often, as this hollow among the hills, wherein a man could look and listen and be quiet, with no thought of anything new or strange, contented for the time with the old thoughts and the old dreams.
- Pulaski, or Pulaski City (the place goes hy both names, — the second a reminiscence of its “ booming ” days, I should suppose), is so intermediate in size and appearance that I find myself speaking of it by turns as village, town, and city, with no thought of inconsistency or special inappropriateness.↩
- Mr. H. W. Henshaw once told me about a flock that appeared in winter in the grounds of the Smithsonian Institution, so exhausted that they could be picked off the trees like apples.↩