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tion and death of nature, towards universal gloom and desolation.
No mark of vegetable life is seen,
No bird to bird repeats his tuneful call,
Save the lone redbreast on the moss-grown wall.
Several of the wild quadrupeds and amphibious animals now retire to their winter quarters, which they never, or but seldom, quit till the return of spring. Of these some lay up no stores of provision, and therefore become entirely torpid till the warm weather brings out them and their food at the same time. To this class belong the frog, the lizard, the badger, hedgehog, and bat, all of which feed on insects or vegetables. The frog shelters itself in the mud at the bottom of ponds and ditches; the lizard, badger, and hedgehog, retire to holes in the earth; and the bat makes choice of caverns, barns, deserted houses, and coal-pit shafts, where it remains suspended by the claws of its hind feet, and closely wrapt up in the membranes of the fore feet. Bats, however, are observed to be stirring at all times of the year when the warmth of the evening is equal to fifty degrees of the thermometer, and a heat of forty-five degrees is found sufficient to revive the various species of gnats which are the favourite food of this animal.
Dormice also lie torpid the greater part of the winter, though they lay up considerable stores of food; an occasional warm day revives them, when they eat a little, but soon relapse into their former condition.
Squirrels, water-rats, and field-mice, provide large magazines of provision, the former of nuts, the others of acorns, potatoes, &c. They are not known to become torpid, though they stir but little abroad, and probably sleep more at this time than in the summer.
The immediate cause of torpidity in animals cannot perhaps be very satisfactorily explained; there are, however, certain well-known facts, which appear evidently to point out how essential a certain degree of cold is to the production of this effect.
If a frog be immersed in water at thirty-two degrees, or the freezing point, it becomes perfectly torpid in a few moments; LICHENS AND MOSSES. 525
and the gradual application of a warmth of fifty degrees, will in a short time restore it to a state of activity; in man the effect of immersion in cold water, and of cold in general, is to render the pulsations of the heart less frequent; and, if increased to a certain degree, to bring on a deep torpid sleep: in all the known instances, indeed, the termination to this sleep has been death; though reasoning from analogy, there seems no reason to suppose that torpor gradually brought on, and in circumstances where the body is excluded from a continual change of fresh cold air, should be attended with such fatal consequences.
The only vegetables which now flourish, are several species of mosses, and lichens or liverworts. The mosses put forth their minute parts of fructification during the winter months, and offer a curious spectacle to the botanist, at a time when the rest of nature is dead to him. There are species of mosses adapted to every variety of situation, but they are very little, if at all, used in commerce, domestic economy, or as food either for man or beast. Lichens cover ditchbanks, heaths, walls, rocks, and other neglected places, with a scaly, branched, or leather-like substance; the different species of which have been applied to several important purposes. One kind consisting of white flexible branches covering the tops of the highest mountains in this island, and overspreading the surface of the ground in Norway and Lapland, is called the Rhendeer lichen; from its being the sole winter subsistence of the rhendeer, the domestic cattle of the Laplanders. The Iceland lichen, another species, is used when fresh, medicinally, as a purgative, but when dried, is no contemptible substitute for bread to the inhabitants of the arctic regions; it is mixed with either boiling milk or water, both of which it turns to a thick gruel-like consistence, affording a good deal of nourishment. Many kinds are made use of as dyeing drugs, with considerable success; especially a grey one that is found in the Canary Islands, known in commerce by the name of archil, and much esteemed for its rich purple dye, fugitive indeed, but extremely beautiful, and used for giving a lustre to silks.
Lichens are also of considerable service in the economy of nature, in forming upon barren places a stratum of vegetable mould for the support of larger and more useful plants. If a castle or other edifice, by being deserted and ruined, returns to the dominion of nature, it soon becomes covered with the various kinds of lichens, which deriving almost their whole nourishment from the air and rain, will readily grow on a bare rock. After some generations of these have grown up and decayed, the crevices become filled with a fine mould sufficient for the support of mosses, and other minute plants. These successively decaying, add to the collection of earth, which at length suffices for the supply of a few winged seeds of ash or sycamore, the minute fibres of the roots of which insinuating themselves into the small interstices formed by time, or the injuries of the weather, derive thence fresh nourishment, and by their gradual enlargement, at length split in pieces and overthrow the most massy towers.
On the 21st of December happens the winter solstice, or shortest day; when the sun is something less than eight hours above the horizon, even in the southern parts of the island. Soon after this, frost and snow generally begin to set in for the rest of the winter. The farmer has little to do out of doors in the course of this month. His principal attention is bestowed on the feeding and management of his cattle, and various matters of household economy.
The festival of Christmas occurs very seasonably to cheer this comfortless period. Great preparations are made for it in the country, and plenty of rustic dainties are provided for its celebration according to the rites of ancient hospitality. The old year steals away unlamented and scarcely perceived; and a new one begins with lengthening days and brighter skies, inspiring fresh hopes and pleasing expectations.
These naked shoots
Her silver globes, light as the foamy surf
There's silence in the harvest field;
And blackness in the mountain glen, And cloud that will not pass away From the hill-tops for many a day;
And stillness round the homes of men.
The old tree hath an older look;
The lonesome place is yet more dreary; They go not now, the young and old, Slow wandering on by wood and wold; The air is damp, the winds are cold,
And summer paths are wet and weary.
The drooping year is in the wane,
The owl sits huddling by himself,
The cold has pierced his body thorough;
The patient cattle hang their head;
The deer are 'neath their winter shed;
The ruddy squirrel's in his bed,
And each small thing within its burrow.
In rich men's halls the fire is piled,
And ermine robes keep out the weather; In poor men's huts the fire is low, Through broken panes the keen winds blow, And old and young are cold together.
Oh poverty is disconsolate !—
Its pains are many, its foes are strong;
One silent night hath passed, and lo!