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day of snow was so extraordinarily severe, that upwards of twenty thousand sheep, as well as some of the shepherds, were destroyed. An anecdote has been related, in connexion with this storm, which shows the degree of attention with which the Scottish shepherds notice the appearances of the sky. The day in question was the 27th of March; it was Monday, and on the previous day the weather was remarked to be unusually warm. A party of peasants, going home from Yarrow church on Sunday evening, saw a shepherd who had collected all his sheep by the side of a wood. Knowing that he was a religious man, and unaccustomed to collect his sheep in that manner on the Sabbath, they asked him his motive; to which he replied, that he had noticed certain appearances in the sky, which led him to conclude that a snow-storm was approaching. All the villagers laughed at him; but he bore their jokes good-humouredly, and provided for the safety of his sheep. The fatal storm occurred on the following day, and this shepherd was the only one in the vicinity who saved the whole of his sheep. We may remark, in reference to weather-observations such as these, that provided they be kept within reasonable limits, they are exceedingly valuable. Persons who put undivided faith in "weather almanacs," and in the popular omens and prognostics which are so abundant, are liable to be duped and led into repeated errors; but those who pretend to despise the experience of humble observers, and to lay down doctrines relating to the weather from theory only, err almost as much on the other side.
Perhaps the most extraordinary snow-storm with which Scotland was ever visited, was that which occurred on the 24th of January, 1794; extraordinary both in relation to the enormous depth to which the snow accumulated in a few hours, and to the devastation which it occasioned. James Hogg, so well known as the "Ettrick Shepherd," was then a young man, and was involved in the consequences of this storm. In the evening of his life he wrote a graphic account of the occurrence, from which we shall borrow so much as will suffice to convey an idea of this remarkable storm.
Hogg and a few young friends had formed themselves into a sort of literary society for the reading and criticism of essays and papers. They were all shepherds, and were accustomed to meet at each other's houses, where they frequently remained together all night. On the evening in question a meeting was to be held at Entertrony, a place distant twenty miles from Hogg's residence, over a wild and rugged country. He had written what he terms "a flaming bombastical essay," and set off with it in his pocket, to attend a meeting of his compeers. As he was trudging along on foot, he thought he perceived symptoms of an approaching storm, and that of no ordinary nature. There was a dead calm, accompanied by a slight fall of snow, and a very unusual appearance was presented by the distant hills. He thought of the flock of sheep which was usually under his care, but which was now consigned to the charge of another, and he began to think it would be prudent to retrace his steps. After a long contest between his inclination and his sense of duty, he turned back with a heavy heart, and wended homewards. On his road he called at the house of an elder relative, who told him that the symptoms foreboded a snow-storm during the night, and advised him to hasten homeward with all speed. The old man further stated, as a guide to Hogg, in conducting the sheep to a quarter where they would be best sheltered, that if, during his journey, he should see any opening in the rime or frostfog, he might conclude that the storm would spring up from that quarter. Hogg, however, observed no such opening in the fog, and finally reached home, where he went to bed, intending to rise at a very early hour, and go out to find shelter for his sheep.
Just before he retired to rest, he observed a brightness in the north, and remembered his friend's advice; but thought he might postpone acting thereon. About two o'clock in the morning a storm commenced with such suddenness and fury, that he was startled from his bed, and, on putting his arm out into the open air, he found the air so completely overloaded with falling and driving snow, that, but for the force of the wind, he felt as if he had thrust his arm into a wreath of snow. He slept in a kind of outhouse, distant about fourteen yards from the dwelling-house; and, upon going down stairs, he found this place packed with snow, nearly as high as the walls of his house. With great difficulty he reached the dwelling-house, and found all the
T1IE ETTRICK Shepherd's ADVENTURE. 23
inmates in a state of dismay. The state of the sheep belonging to the farm became an object of anxiety to all; eight hundred of these poor animals being out on a very exposed hill at a considerable distance from the houses. They made a hasty breakfast, joined in a simple but earnest prayer for the safety of all, and the male inmates started on a perilous venture, having previously filled their pockets with bread and cheese, sewed their plaids around their bodies, tied on their hats, and provided themselves each with a staff.
As soon as they got out into the open air (two hours before day) the darkness was so great, that to grope their way was the only method of proceeding. Sometimes they had to wade through masses of snow, at others to roll or clamber over them; while the wind and drift were so violent, that the travellers were forced, every three or four minutes, to hold down their heads to recover breath. So perplexing were the difficulties which they had to encounter in the utter darkness, that they were two hours reaching a distance of three hundred yards from the house. As day dawned, they were able to advance a little faster, one taking the lead, and the others following close in the rear. This leadership could only be maintained three or four minutes at a time, on account of the piercing wind which blew uninterruptedly in their faces. In a short time one of the party, who, as leader, had been unconsciously taking them out of the way, was found nearly insensible: shortly afterwards Hogg fell down a precipice, and was nearly buried in the snow.
After innumerable disasters, they at length reached one of the flocks of sheep. The sheep were standing in a close body, one-half of the number being covered with snow to the depth of ten feet, and the other half being forced up against a brae. The outer ones being with some difficulty extricated, the rest were, to the agreeable surprise of the shepherds, able to walk out from beneath the superincumbent load of snow, which had consolidated into a mass. Hogg, quitting the other shepherds, proceeded onward to a spot where another flock had been left. He was able to extricate about half of these, and to procure them a place of safety; after which he made the best of his way home again, groping along as well as he could, for although day-time, it was impossible to see twenty yards around; and the snow was so deep as to conceal every vestige of the lofty trees in some of the glens. Day after day the party sallied forth, until they had found and brought home, either dead or alive, nearly the whole of the sheep, most of which were found buried to the depth of from six to ten feet in snow. All were alive when found, but a large number died shortly afterwards.
By this one night's snow-storm, seventeen shepherds in the south of Scotland lost their lives, while upwards ofthirty more were carried home insensible. One farmer lost seventytwo scores of sheep, and many others from twenty to thirty scores each. In some cases whole flocks were overwhelmed with snow, and no one knew where they were till the dissolving snow exposed the dead bodies. Many hundreds were, by the violence of the storm, driven into waters, burns, and lakes, where they were buried or frozen up, and these the flood carried away, so that they were never again seen or found by the owners. At one place, where several streams flow into the Solway Frith, there is a kind of shoal called the Beds of Esk, where the tide throws out and leaves whatever is carried into it by these streams. At this spot, when the flood after the storm had subsided, were found the dead bodies of two men, one woman, forty-five dogs, three horses, nine black cattle, one hundred and eighty hares, and eighteen hundred and forty sheep.
Bishop Stanley's pleading for the much maligned rook which suffers especially during the severe frosts of this month, deserves a place here.
We have often heard persons congratulate themselves on a deep snow, a hard frost, or dry weather, as the surest means of destroying insects; whereas it is just the reverse. A hard frost, or a deep snow, or a dry summer, are the very best protection they can have, and for this reason: the rooks and other birds cannot reach that innumerable host which pass the greater portion of their existence under ground. In vain the hungry rook in a hard frost, looks over a fine fallow, or a field of new-sown wheat. He may be seen sitting on a bare bough, like Tantalus, in the midst of plenty beyond his reach, with his feathers ruffed up, casting every now and then an anxious glance over the frozen surface, beyond the power of even his strong beak to penetrate. His situation HABDSHIES OP THE BOOKS.
is much the same in dry springs or summers, when he may be seen walking up and down by the sides of the highways, picking up what he can get. In the hot summer of 1825, many of the young broods of the season are reported to have been starved: the mornings were without dew, and consequently, few or no earth-worms were to be obtained, and they were found dead under the trees, having expired on their roostings. It was quite distressing, says an eye-witness, to hear the constant clamour of the young for food. The old birds seemed to suffer without complaint; but the wants of their perishing offspring were expressed by unceasing cries. Yet amidst all this distress, it was pleasing to observe the perseverance of the old ones in the endeavour to relieve their perishing families; for many of them remained out searching for food long after their accustomed roosting-time,—and then, adds this interesting writer, the rook became a plunderer, and dreadful havoc took place in the potato-fields, where whole lines were afterwards seen broken up in consequence of the visits of the suffering rooks.
But among the natural features of this month we must not omit one of the most beautiful, that of Hoar-Frost.
What, says Leigh Hunt, can be more delicately beautiful than the spectacle which sometimes salutes the eye at the breakfast-room window, occasioned by the hoar-frost dew? If a jeweller had come to dress every plant over night to surprise an eastern sultan, he could not produce anything like the "pearly drops" or "the silvery plumage." An ordinary bed of greens, to those who are not at the mercy of their own vulgar associations, will sometimes look like crisp and corrugated emerald, powdered with diamonds.
The frost looked forth, one still clear night,
In silence I'll take my way;
But I'll be as busy as they."