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In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin's breast
In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;
In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished dove;
In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.
So says our finest living poet; and turning to the page of another poet, a most eloquent interpreter of Nature, a perfect landscape-painter in words, we say with him, " What can equal the delight of our hearts at the very first glimpse of Spring! A spirit of tenderness, a burst of freshness and luxury of feeling possess us; and let fifty springs have broken upon us, this joy, unlike many joys of time, is not an atom impaired. Are we not young? Are we not boys? Do we not break, by the power of awakened thoughts, into all the rapturous scenes of all our happier years? There is something in the freshness of the soil, in the mossy bank, the balmy air, the voices of birds, the early and delicious flowers, that we have seen and felt only in childhood and spring."
At this season gardens are becoming interesting to their possessors; and as you walk along past cottages and country-houses, you see the inhabitants astir within them, turning over the fresh mellow mould, planting and sowing for the coming year. All is activity and hope. Look into that cottage garden through the old mossy pales, and see how gay are the little sunny flowers already. There are clumps of dog-tooth violets, rows of yellow daffodils, polyanthuses, and those pretty lilac primroses which only seem to flourish in the gardens of the poor; there is the red-flowered mezereon, and over the sunny front of the cottage the china-rose already giving promise of bloom in its many pink-striped buds. Walking on through the old crofts we find one of the loveliest of our English wild flowers, the wild daffodil, nodding its graceful head to the brisk wind which sweeps over it, and down in the little dingle below we hear the voices of the children who are gathering primroses which grow there by thousands among the mossy stumps of trees that were felled in their grandfather's time; this brings us within sound of a rookery whose busy inhabitants
With noisy caw
Let us pause here for a few moments and watch these curious creatures at their work, and remember the while what Bishop Stanley has told us about them.
"A farmer," he tells us, "rented a farm in the county of Essex some years ago, where he had not resided long, before a number of rooks came and built their nests upon trees immediately surrounding the premises, and multiplied so much in the course of three or four years, as to form a considerable rookery, which he much prized. About this time, however, he was induced to take a larger farm, which obliged him to change his residence and forsake his rooks; but to his great surprise and pleasure the whole rookery manifested such an attachment to him, as led them to desert their former habitation, and accompany him to his new abode, which was about three-quarters of a mile off, and there they have continued to nourish ever since." It should be added that this person was strongly attached to all animals whatsoever, and that he always experiences a striking return of affection even from the least docile of them.
Could we dive into all the mysteries of a rookery, a page in the book of nature would be opened filled with much that 'man's philosophy hath never dreamed of.' Without any assignable cause, a party will secede from an old-established rookery, and form a new one. A case of this sort occurred about ten years ago, in the parish of Alderley in Cheshire. Seven pairs of rooks, supposed to have come from an old rookery about two miles distant, where an extent of wood admitted of unlimited accommodation, took up their residence in a clump of trees and proceeded to build. There they have continued ever since, the number of nests increasing as follows:—In 1828 there were seven nests; in 1829, nine; in 1830, thirteen; in 1831, twenty-four; in 1832, thirty-three; in 1833, upwards of fifty. Another instance of unaccountable removal from an accustomed place
of resort, occurred within the last few years in a comparatively small rookery in the Palace Garden in the city of Norwich. For several years the birds had confined their nests to a few trees immediately in front of the house, when one season, without any assignable cause, they took up a new position on some trees, also in the garden, but about two hundred yards distant, where they remained till the spring of 1847, when, before their nests were completed, or young hatched, they disappeared altogether, and the heretofore frequented trees are only now and then resorted to by a few stray casual visitors.
It has been said that rooks usually prefer elm-trees for building; and it was observed, that in the mingled grove of horse-chesmits and elms at Hawley, in Kent, not a single nest was ever built in the horse-chesnut trees, though the elms were full of them. In the above instance, however, they certainly gave the oak a preference, leaving an elmtree close at hand untenanted. These birds, like the rest of their species, return at a particular time in autumn, and for a few days seem to be very busy about their nests, as if preparing them for immediate use, and then desert them for the winter; no reason has been discovered for this singular habit, peculiar, it is believed, to rooks. May it not probably arise from an instinctive feeling that as the nests will be wanted early in the spring, a few repairs may be requisite to strengthen and prevent their being shattered or blown to pieces by the storms of winter; and that according to the homely proverb of the stitch in time saving nine, they may thus be saving themselves a greater degree of labour than they could easily bestow when the trees are again to be occupied? Most other birds are under no necessity of looking after these autumnal repairs, as they do not use the same old nests, but build entirely new ones."
The cawing of a rookery is one of the most characteristic features of spring; it is associated with spring; and we can well understand why a poet has remarked that he never heard the cawing of the spring rooks without smelling cowslips.
For those who are desirous of establishing a rookery in their own immediate neighbourhood we will transcribe Bishop Stanley's recipe for so doing:—"Look out for a magpie's nest near the wished-for spot, and exchange her eggs for those of a rook; and the young rooks, when hatched, having no other associations than those of the tree in which they were bred, and being sure of a harsh reception, if not of being pecked to death, if venturing to join any neighbouring rookery in which they have no family connexions, the desired object may be obtained."
"Nothing," says W. Howitt, "can perhaps illustrate so livingly our idea of a spirit as a mighty wind; present in its amazing powers and sublimity, yet seen only in its effects. We are whirled along by its careering torrent with irresistible power; we are driven before it, as Miss Mitford says, as by a steam-engine. How it comes rushing and roaring over the house, like the billows of a mighty ocean! Then for the banging of doors, the screaming and creaking of signs, the clatter of falling shutters in the street! Then for the crash of chimneys, the down-toppling of crazy gables, the showering of tiles upon the pavement, as if the bomb-shells of a besieging army were demolishing the roofs, and rendering it even death to walk the streets! Then for a scene of awful grandeur upon the glorious ocean! That which but an hour before was calm and sun-bright, a variety of vessels lying at anchor, or sailing to and fro in serene beauty, now is a scene of sublime and chaotic uproar!—the waves rolling and foaming, and dashing their spray over rocks, pier-heads, houses, and even over the loftiest towers and churches too, as I have seen it to an amazing extent, till the water ran down the walls like rain, and the windows at a great distance from the beach, were covered with a salt incrustation; the vessels meanwhile labouring amidst the riotous billows as for life, and tugging at their cables as if mad for their escape. Many a beautiful, many a wild, many an animating spectacle, is to be witnessed on the shores of our happy isle in such moments. What anxious groups are collected on the quays of populous ports. What lonely peril is encountered on distant strands, where the solitary fisherman picks up a troubled and precarious livelihood.
Then too for the most animated scene which the inland country can exhibit in all the twelve months, a scene mixed with no slight touches of the grotesque. Wherever you go, the people perhaps suddenly aroused from the tranquil fireside of a Sunday afternoon, are swarming upon the roofs of their houses, like bees startled from their cells by the unexpected appearance of some formidable intruder, toiling to resist the outrageous attack of the storm upon the thatch, which is here and there torn clean from the rafters, and in other places heaves and pants as if impatient to try a flight into the next field or garden. There is an universal erection of ladders, a bustling, anxious, laying-on of logs, rails, barrows, or whatever may come to hand, to keep on the mutinous roof. Old wives with spectacled noses, and kerchiefs incontinently tied over their mob-caps, are seen reconnoitering pig-sties, hen-roots, &c, lest they be blown down, or something be blown down upon them. What a solemn and sublime roar too there is in the woods, a sound as of tempestuous seas! Whatever poetical spirit can hear it without being influenced by incommunicable ideas of power, majesty, and the stupendous energies of the elements?
0 storm and darkness ye are wondrous strong!
What picturesque ruin is there scattered around you! Trees overwhelmed, immense branches torn down, small boughs broken, and dry leaves whirled along are quivering in air like birds. What a harvest of decayed sticks for Goody Blakes, who with their checked aprons held up do not fail to discover it. What a harvest too for the newspapers, which will be filled for a season with calamitous accounts of accidents and deaths by falling of chimneys, shipwrecks, and so forth."
As regards shipwrecks every sea-side church-yard of this sea-girt island bears melancholy memorial of the prevalence of storms in this and the preceding month.