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By Ernest Ingersoll
Illustrated from photographs by Clarence Lown (ARCH is not the most pleasant and pine-needles, beaten flat by the fail
month in the year for a walk in of the rain and the pressure of snow; ard
- the fields or woods, yet it is not where roily water has soaked into them wholly without attraction to the lover of we often see precise impressions in the rural scenes, and has the advantage of mud, reminding us of, and explaining, the concentrating his attention upon a few perfect casts of leaves common in some things. There is now ordinarily neither rocks, especially those of the coal-measthe picturesqueness of the snowy winter ures. The taller dead grass and reeds out landscape frozen into silence and immo- in the meadow are less closely matted, and bility, nor the beauty and luxuriance of beneath their sheltering arches small anisummer. Yet a sunny day offers much mals have crept about all winter, finding to the eye that is inspiring: it is worth plenty of seeds and small fruit, shaken to while to examine how Nature spends her the ground for their provender. leisure.
Here and there through the wet fields The season is neutral-tinted. The dis- go mysterious paths, without definite betant hills, the low meadows, the fallow ginning or end, often so faint as hardly to ridges and bushy pastures, are all dull be followed. When were they trodden ? purples and browns; a grove of mixed By what men or animals ? Why were they hardwood trees at a distance appears deserted for the new, muddy ones, where greenish-white below, dusky among the the last ice is now melting, and left to be branches, and reddish at the top, where reclaimed by patient Nature, who never the sunshine is reflected from the new becomes discouraged when men destroy growth of twigs and sprouting buds; and her work, but persistently seizes the first the shadowy side of a group of evergreens opportunity to repair the damage done and forms a mass of black.
restore the uniform wildness? Under the trees the ground is carpeted After a light snow in March these trails with a layer of leather-covered old leaves stand out with great distinctness and
reveal themselves, where in summer they Although the woods are so silent at could hardly be traced. Now they offer this early season (whenever you are the best footing, but lead nowhither. beyond hearing the frogs), echoing only Whenever we step out of them we trip occasionally the odd, jerky soliloquy of and stumble, our clothing is seized by the scrambling little nuthatch, the cheery innumerable detaining thorn-fingers, and voice of the chickadee, and perhaps the the soil, left spongy by the frost, sinks boastful scream of a bluejay, there is a elastic and oozy beneath our tread. large aggregate of feathered life abroad
Poking aside the leaves and grass on in March, even before many migratory this warm hillside, where spherical swarms birds have come. Several of the birds of of minute flies are going through a mazy prey, and often the ravens and crows, are dance in the air, many herbs may be found already breeding. The snowbirds and already green and making ready to flower tree-sparrows linger in the pastures; the in the earliest spring, such as the hepatica, large, handsome, fox-colored sparrows the cinquefoil, violet, and strawberry; but appear; the cedar-birds whirl in and out most of the leaves and runners of the last of the red cedars and eat their purple are varnished with rich burnt-brown tints berries greedily; a few song-sparrows as though japanned.
dodge about the fence-rows, and little In the swollen but crystal-clear brooks, woodpeckers are hammering here and flowing at the foot of the slope among the there wherever they can find a dead limb weeds with a gentle tinkling sound, the that may possibly conceal some undiscovaquatic ranunculus and the water-cress ered grub, or will, at any rate, reward are glowing with emerald foliage, and we them with a cheerful tattoo. discover a few cylindrical cases of young These, and the early migrants from the caddis-flies anchored to the submerged South, find an abundant harvest preserved stems of the plants. The mosses and for them in the meadows and wood-paslittle ferns on the bank are green, and tures, despite their desolate appearance; where the meadows have been overflowed yet, considering the minuteness of the the alders are so full of embryo blossoms grass-seeds upon which they mainly feed, that their branches seem loaded with pur- it is appalling to think what an enormous ple fruit.
number of bites a bird must take to make
out a dinner! But larger mouthfuls have ghost of architecture, washed-in flat, as been kept for them. The bayberry, or painters would say, with luminous tints false myrtle, gleams with dense clusters of gradually fading away to nothing, yet greenish-white berries; the close, somber never losing their transparency. foliage of the juniper, or savin, is enlivened At first nothing is perceptible but the by innumerable purplish berries, upon deafening gale and smothering snow, until which all the birds nearly gorge them- presently I come to a ravine on the leeselves sometimes ; black alders, “glowing ward side of a hill, where a grove of cedars with the brightest scarlet fruit, and re- is overgrown and tied together with squirsembling at a distance pyramids of flame," rel-brier, while weeds and thorny bushes are scattered about the lowlands, while on below are tangled into almost impenetrable higher ground the stately mountain-ash thickets. Here is a hospice for the bufrepeats the scene, witches or no witches. feted birds, and as soon as I step into its
Sometimes, after a considerable interval shelter, and catch my breath again, I begin of warm weather has melted away all to hear dozens of them, though not one is traces of winter, and we fondly think its yet to be seen. Another plunge forward forces have been permanently beaten back, in the slippery drifts, and, lo! a robin a heavy snow-storm will return, and then bursts out of a leafy covert at my elbow, a new scene presents itself to the rambler. scattering wingfuls of snow from the britOn the night before, perhaps, mock-moons tle old leaves, and springing a harsh alarm have been hung in the glowering sky, and that instantly hushes the twittering gossip. next morning the sunlight will struggle What a queer, pretty picture it is that down silver-gray through blustering winds greets me as I turn my back to the rushand thickly flying snow. As, with bent ing flakes, and so get my eyes open to head, I force my way into the fields, the look at it! Beyond a wide swale, that air about me is full of light, and nearer yesterday was gold and green but now is objects are clear enough, but at a com- glistening wintry white, rises a small emiparatively short distance little can be seen nence where a dissolving view of trees and distinctly, although the white light seems buildings is momently formed, then hidden, continuous; and the receding town be- then brought out again, mirage-like, in comes more and more a beautiful shining the most curious and dreamlike unreality, yet always with singular beauty. Gray is whose notes have so metallic a clink that the only color—a soft, purplish, silvery once or twice I am deceived into thinking gray; and the silhouette the only style of the distant hammering in a blacksmith's drawing. By their outlines I guess that shop is their chatter in a new direction. that wavering slender spike amid the glis- Their slate-colored coats, buttoned high tening haze is the church steeple—that across the breast over white vests, like squarish blur the belfry of the court-house old-fashioned dress-suits, look positively
—the next irregular smudge a certain col- black amid the purity of their surroundlection of house-roofs ; but all seem as ings, and they trot about nimbly on top foreign and unsubstantial as shadows, so of the snow, dragging their tails so as to quaintly are they now clouded, now lightly leave a well-marked trail. With them are revealed, by the swirling, satiny snowflakes active, chippering field-sparrows, so small that fill the air with particles luminous in and colorless as to be hard to follow in themselves yet obscuring the landscape. the murk of the storm ; a single olive
Suddenly, dark midgets attract my atten- hued goldfinch, silent and unhappy; and tion, and, pulling my cap over my eyes, I —phut out from between my feet bursts wade out into the meadow where weeds a song-sparrow, scattering a fleecy spray and grasses stand thick above the snow. like a torpedo. I stoop down and probe Tough and elastic are these thin old plant- the hole. It is a well leading to a long stems that have kept their erectness all tunnel beneath the bent grasses, and winter; and wild parsnips by the hundreds arched by thick snow. Twenty birds are holding up their hands with fingers could hide there, safe and warm ; and at clustered to catch fistfuls of this late cloud- its further end I find a half-made nest, bounty, like children in the earliest autumn soaked and sodden, yet well worth finishAurry, eager to welcome the coming of ing, no doubt, after it has dried. This sliding and snowballing.
submersion must be a frequent mishap to Gleaming merrily among these weeds, this and other early birds, which catch whose capsules still hold a treasure of something besides worms in our mutable seeds, romps a company of sparrows, ami- climate; but had the owner gone so far cable and industrious. The largest and as to have been sitting on eggs, doubtless most conspicuous, of course, are the juncos, she would have kept at her brooding and
let the snow form a crystal canopy over vigorously at me when I dislodged them her and her hopes.
in my attempt to learn where they were and I followed those plucky meadow-birds what they were about. that day perhaps two hundred yards, Finches abounded, too, searching the wading through the snow and matted bark of tree-trunks for hiding beetles and herbage, and I thought it fun. It gave a insects' eggs, plucking at old flower-heads new view of everything; and the rascals for seeds, nibbling the dried purple fruit paid so little attention to the bad weather of the brier, chirping and chatting cheerthat I would have been ashamed to shirk ily, but never singing-except one sort, it. Then up the hill I went, through which kept high up in the tree-tops. It briers and brush and laden trees, fairly sang a bright, sweet, warbler-like lay, not floundering in the snow, hearing but not often repeated, but breathing the spirit of seeing a crow whose querulous tone sunshine and summer and green leaves in betrayed an almost despairing loneliness a way wonderfully inspiriting in this whirl and disgust, and then struggled across of cold and snow. The delicate notes a bleak upland, where winter came and fairly sparkled as they eddied away with went at thirty miles an hour, to a road the flakes, and probably were those of the that wormed down through a shady cutting tree-sparrow—a Northern cousin of the to my copse.
chippy. Here was shelter, and the birds knew During March the buds swell with sap it. I saw one fool of a robin (robins are and new energy ; many forest trees begin mostly fools) hunched up, shivering and to flower, to the delight of the kinglets disconsolate, on an exposed twig where he and white-throated sparrows, some even could hardly keep his balance, as though before they put forth their leaves; and he didn't care whether he lived or died; patches of meadow and hillside grow embut all the others had stowed themselves erald-green with new grass, and are dotaway in snug crannies under the over- ted with delicate blue and white and yelhanging crest of the bank, or were wading low aluwers. The bluebird seeks its mate; in a little runlet at its foot, seeking food, the robin has already found one, and beor roosting comfortably beneath the thatch gun its nest; the song-sparrow is caroling of dense cedar-bushes, and they swore to his love from every brush-pile; the