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Now shifting gales with milder influence blow,
Cloud o'er the skies, and melt the falling snow;
The softened earth with fertile moisture teems,
And, freed from icy bonds, down rush the swelling streams.
thaw, attended by a south wind and rain, which all at once dissolves the snow. Torrents of water then pour from the hills, every brook is swelled into a large stream, which rushes violently into the rivers; the pavement of ice with which they are covered, now breaks up in every direction with the noise of thunder, and the floating masses dashed against barges and bridges, force down every thing that obstructs their passage; the bed of the river becomes unable to carry off this vast accumulation of water; it swells over the banks, inundates the bordering fields, and sweeps away cattle, mills, hay-stacks, gates, trees, and, in short, almost every thing that it reaches; the manure is carried off from the fields, high banks with the trees upon them are undermined and give way, and in the space of a few hours incalculable losses are sustained.*
Muttering, the winds at eve, with blunted point,
Blow hollow-blustering from the south. Subdued,
The frost resolves into a trickling thaw.
Spotted the mountains shine, loose sleet descends
And floods the country round. The rivers swell,
Of bonds impatient. Sudden from the hills,
O'er rocks and woods, in broad brown cataracts,
A thousand snow-fed torrents rush at once,
And where they rush, the wide resounding plain
Is left one slimy waste. THOMSON.
The frost, however, usually returns for a time, when fresh snow falls, often in great quantities, and thus the weather alternately changes during most part of this month.
Various signs of returning spring occur at different times in February. The wood-lark, one of our earliest and sweetest songsters, often renews his note at the very entrance of the month; not long after, rooks begin to pair, and geese to lay. The thrush and chaffinch then add to the early music of the groves; wood-owls hoot; near the close of the month partridges begin to couple, and repair the ravages committed on this devoted race during the autumn and winter. Gnats play about, insects swarm under sunny hedges, and some of the earliest of the butterfly tribe make their appearance; THE MOLE. 53
* The reader cannot fail to remember that the disastrous Holm-Frith flood occurred in the February of 1852.
for though by far the greater proportion of many species of insects perish at the close of autumn, yet several individuals, probably those that emerge the latest from the chrysalis state, are only rendered torpid by the cold; and the moderate warmth of a bright winter's day, is sufficient to rouse them into activity.
As soon as the earth is softened, moles go to work in throwing up their hillocks. Under some of the largest, a little below the surface of the ground, they make their nests of moss, in which four or five young are found at a time. These animals feed on worms, beetles, and the roots of plants.
They do much mischief in gardens,by loosening and devouring flower roots, and in the fields by rendering the surface of the soil unequal by their hillocks, which obstruct the scythe in mowing. They are also accused of piercing the sides of dams and canals, and letting out the water; the strong muscles of their fore-feet, together with their hand-like form, admirably fit this animal for swimming; and it has lately been observed, that in this way moles pass from the shore to the little islands in some of the Scotch lakes.
Many plants emerge from under-ground in February, but few flowers as yet adorn the fields and pastures. Snow-drops are sometimes fully opened from the beginning of the month, often peeping out amidst the snow.
Already now the snow-drop dares appear,
The elder-tree discloses its flower-buds; the catkins of the hazel become very conspicuous in the hedges; young leaves are budding on the gooseberry and currant-trees about the end of the month; and those causes are now in full activity which produce the springing of plants and the renovation of vegetable life.
The first vital function in trees, after the frost is moderated, and the earth sufficiently thawed, is the ascent of the sap, which is taken up by the absorbent vessels composing the inner bark of the tree, and reaching to the extremity of the fibres of the roots; the water thus imbibed by the roots is there mixed with a quantity of saccharine matter, and formed into sap, whence it is distributed in great abundance to every individual bud. The amazing quantity of sweet liquid sap provided for the nourishment of some trees, is evident from a prevalent custom in this country, of tapping the birch in the early part of spring; thus obtaining from each tree a quart or more of liquor, according to its size, which is fermented into a species of wine: the same method is also practised in the tropical regions to procure the favourite liquor of the inhabitants, palm wine; and a similar custom is observed in the northern parts of America with regard to the sugarmaple, the juice of which boiled down yields a rich sugar, each tree affording about three pounds. This great accession of nourishment causes the bud to swell, to break through its covering, and to spread into blossoms, or lengthen into a shoot bearing leaves. This is the first process, and, properly speaking, is all that belongs to the springing or elongation of trees; and in many plants, that is, all those which are annual or deciduous, there is no other process; the plant absorbs juices from the earth, and in proportion to the quantity of these juices increases in size: it expands its blossoms, perfects its fruit, and when the ground is incapable by drought or frost of yielding any more moisture, or when the
vessels of the plant are not able to draw it up, the plant perishes. But in trees, though the beginning and end of the first process is exactly similar to what takes place in vegetables, yet there is a second process, which at the same time that it adds to their bulk, enables them to endure and go on increasing through a long series of years.
The second process begins soon after the first, in this way: —At the base of the foot-stalk of each leaf a small bud is gradually formed; but the absorbent vessels of the leaf having exhausted themselves in the formation of the bud, are unable to bring it nearer to maturity: in this state it exactly resembles a seed, containing within it the rudiments of vegetation, but destitute of absorbent vessels to nourish and evolve the embryo. Being surrounded, however, by sap, like a seed in moist earth, it is in a proper situation for growing; the influence of the sun sets in motion the juices of the bud and of the seed, and the first operation in both of them is to send down roots a certain depth into the ground for the purpose of obtaining the necessary moisture. The bud accordingly shoots down its roots upon the inner bark of the tree, till they reach the part covered by the earth. Winter now arriving, the cold and defect of moisture owing to the clogged condition of the absorbent vessels, cause the fruit and leaves to fall, so that except the provision of buds with roots, the remainder of the tree, like an annual plant, is entirely dead: the leaves, the flowers and fruit are gone, and what was the inner bark, is no longer organised, while the roots of the buds form a new inner bark; and thus the buds with their roots contain all that remains alive of the whole tree. It is owing to this annual renovation of the inner bark, that the tree increases in bulk; and a new coating being added every year, we are hence furnished with an easy and exact method of ascertaining the age of a tree by counting the number of concentric circles of which the trunk is composed. A tree, therefore, properly speaking, is rather a congeries of a multitude of annual plants, than a perennial individual. The sap in trees always rises as soon as the frost is abated, that when the stimulus of the warm weather in the early spring acts upon the bud, there should be at hand a supply of food for its nourishment; and if by any means the sap is prevented from ascending at the proper time, the tree