Ways of Wood Folk
WAYS OF WOOD FOLK
WILLIAM J. LONG
GINN & COMPANY, PUBLISHERS
The Athenæum Press
BY WILLIAM J. LONG
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
To Plato, the owl, who looks
over my shoulder as I write, and
who knows all about the woods.
"All crows are alike," said a wise man, speaking ofpoliticians. That is quite true—in the dark. Bydaylight, however, there is as much difference, within andwithout, in the first two crows one meets as in the first twomen or women. I asked a little child once, who was telling meall about her chicken, how she knew her chicken from twentyothers just like him in the flock. "How do I know mychicken? I know him by his little face," she said. Andsure enough, the face, when you looked at it closely, wasdifferent from all other faces.
This is undoubtedly true of all birds and all animals. Theyrecognize each other instantly amid multitudes of their kind;and one who watches them patiently sees quite as many oddways and individualities among Wood Folk as among otherpeople. No matter, therefore, how well you know the habitsof crows or the habits of caribou in general, watch the first onethat crosses your path as if he were an entire stranger; openeyes to see and heart to interpret, and you will surely findsome new thing, some curious unrecorded way, to give delightto your tramp and bring you home with a new interest.
This individuality of the wild creatures will account, perhaps,for many of these Ways, which can seem no morecurious or startling to the reader than to the writer when hefirst discovered them. They are, almost entirely, the recordsof personal observation in the woods and fields. Occasionally,when I know my hunter or woodsman well, I have taken histestimony, but never without weighing it carefully, and provingit whenever possible by watching the animal in questionfor days or weeks till I found for myself that it was all true.
The sketches are taken almost at random from old note-booksand summer journals. About them gather a host ofassociations, of living-over-agains, that have made it a delightto write them; associations of the winter woods, of appleblossoms and nest-building, of New England uplands andwilderness rivers, of camps and canoes, of snowshoes andtrout rods, of sunrise on the hills, when one climbed for theeagle's nest, and twilight on the yellow wind-swept beaches,where the surf sobbed far away, and wings twanged like reedsin the wind swooping down to decoys,—all thronging aboutone, eager to be remembered if not recorded. Among them,most eager, most intense, most frequent of all associations,there is a boy with nerves all a-tingle at the vast sweetmystery that rustled in every wood, following the call of thewinds and the birds, or wandering alone where the spirit movedhim, who never studied nature consciously, but only loved it,and who found out many of these Ways long ago, guidedsolely by a boy's instinct.
If they speak to other boys, as to fellow explorers in thealways new world, if they bring back to older children happymemories of a golden age when nature and man were notquite so far apart, then there will be another pleasure inhaving written them.
My thanks are due, and are given heartily, to the editorsof The Youth's Companion for permission to use severalsketches that have already appeared, and to Mr. CharlesCopeland, the artist, for his care and interest in preparingthe illustrations.
Wm. J. Long.
Andover, Mass., June, 1899.
|III.||Queer Ways of Br'er Rabbit||41|
|IV.||A Wild Duck||55|
|V.||An Oriole's Nest||69|
|VIII.||One Touch of Nature||117|
|XI.||A Fellow of Expedients||152|
|XII.||A Temperance Lesson for the Hornets||161|
|XIV.||A Christmas Carol||181|
|XV.||Mooween the Bear||187|
Did you ever meet a fox face to face, surprisinghim quite as much as yourself?If so, you were deeply impressed, nodoubt, by his perfect dignity and self-possession.Here is how the meetinggenerally comes about.
It is a late winter afternoon. You are swingingrapidly over the upland pastures, or loitering alongthe winding old road through the woods. The colordeepens in the west; the pines grow black against it;the rich brown of the oak leaves seems to glow everywherein the last soft light; and the mystery thatnever sleeps long in the woods begins to rustleagain in the thickets. You are busy with your ownthoughts, seeing nothing, till a flash of yellow passesbefore your eyes, and a fox stands in the path beforeyou, one foot uplifted, the fluffy brush swept aside ingraceful curve, the bright eyes looking straight into[Pg 2]yours—nay, looking through them to read the intentwhich gives the eyes their expression. That is alwaysthe way with a fox; he seems to be looking at yourthoughts.
Surprise, eagerness, a lively curiosity are all inyour face on the instant; but the beautiful creaturebefore you only draws himself together with quietself-possession. He lifts his head slightly; a superiorlook creeps into his eyes; he seems to be speaking.Listen—
"You are surprised?"—this with an almost imperceptiblelift of his eyebrows, which reminds yousomehow that it is really none of your affair. "O,I frequently use this road in attending to somematters over in the West Parish. To be sure, weare socially incompatible; we may even regard eachother as enemies, unfortunately. I did take yourchickens last week; but yesterday your unmannerlydogs hunted me. At least we may meet and pass asgentlemen. You are the older; allow me to giveyou the path."
Dropping his head again, he turns to the left,English fashion, and trots slowly past you. There isno hurry; not the shadow of suspicion or uneasiness.His eyes are cast down; his brow wrinkled, as if indeep thought; already he seems to have forgottenyour existence. You watch him curiously as he [Pg 3]reentersthe path behind you and disappears over thehill. Somehow a queer feeling, half wonder, halfrebuke, steals over you, as if you had been outdonein courtesy, or had passed a gentleman without sufficientlyrecognizing him.
Ah, but you didn't watch sharply enough! Youdidn't see, as he circled past, that cunning side gleamof his yellow eyes, which understood your attitudeperfectly. Had you stirred, he would have vanishedlike a flash. You didn't run to the top of the hillwhere he disappeared, to see that burst of speed theinstant he was out of your sight. You didn't seethe capers, the tail-chasing, the high jumps, the quickturns and plays; and then the straight, nervous gallop,which told more plainly than words his exultationthat he had outwitted you and shown his superiority.
Reynard, wherever you meet him, whether on theold road at twilight, or on the runway before thehounds, impresses you as an animal of dignity andcalculation. He never seems surprised, much lessfrightened; never loses his head; never does thingshurriedly, or on the spur of the moment, as a scatter-brainedrabbit or meddling squirrel might do. Youmeet him, perhaps as he leaves the warm rock on thesouth slope of the old oak woods, where he has beencurled up asleep all the sunny afternoon. (It is easyto find him there in winter.) Now he is off on his[Pg 4]nightly hunt; he is trotting along, head down, browsdeep-wrinkled, planning it all out.
"Let me see," he is thinking, "last night I huntedthe Draper woods. To-night I'll cross the brook justthis side the old bars, and take a look into that pasture-corneramong the junipers. There's a rabbitwhich plays round there on moonlight nights; I'llhave him presently. Then I'll go down to the bigSouth meadow after mice. I haven't been therefor a week; and last time I got six. If I don't findmice, there's that chicken coop of old Jenkins.Only"—He stops, with his foot up, and listens aminute—"only he locks the coop and leaves the dogloose ever since I took the big rooster. Anyway I'lltake a look round there. Sometimes Deacon Jones'shens get to roosting in the next orchard. If I canfind them up an apple tree, I'll bring a couple downwith a good trick I know. On the way—Hi,there!"
In the midst of his planning he gives a grasshopper-jumpaside, and brings down both paws hard on abit of green moss that quivered as he passed. Hespreads his paws apart carefully; thrusts his nosedown between them; drags a young wood-mousefrom under the moss; eats him; licks his chopstwice, and goes on planning as if nothing hadhappened.[Pg 5]
"On the way back, I'll swing round by the Falesplace, and take a sniff under the wall by the oldhickory, to see if those sleepy skunks are still therefor the winter. I'll have that whole family beforespring, if I'm hungry and can't find anything else.They come out on sunny days; all you have to do isjust hide behind the hickory and watch."
So off he goes on his well-planned hunt; and ifyou follow his track to-morrow in the snow, you willsee how he has gone from one hunting ground directlyto the next. You will find the depression where helay in a clump of tall dead grass and watched a whilefor the rabbit; reckon the number of mice he caughtin the meadow; see his sly tracks about the chickencoop, and in the orchard; and pause a moment at thespot where he cast a knowing look behind the hickoryby the wall,—all just as he planned it on his way tothe brook.
If, on the other hand, you stand by one of his runwayswhile the dogs are driving him, expecting, ofcourse, to see him come tearing along in a desperatehurry, frightened out of half his wits by the savageuproar behind him, you can only rub your eyes inwonder when a fluffy yellow ball comes driftingthrough the woods towards you, as if the breezewere blowing it along. There he is, trotting downthe runway in the same leisurely, self-possessed way,[Pg 6]wrapped in his own thoughts apparently, the samedeep wrinkles over his eyes. He played a trick ortwo on a brook, down between the ponds, by jumpingabout on a lot of stones from which the snow hadmelted, without wetting his feet (which he dislikes),and without leaving a track anywhere. While thedogs are puzzling that out, he has plenty of time toplan more devices on his way to the big hill, with itsbrook, and old walls, and rail fences, and dry placesunder the pines, and twenty other helps to an activebrain.
First he will run round the hill half a dozen times,crisscrossing his trail. That of itself will drive theyoung dogs crazy. Then along the top rail of afence, and a long jump into the junipers, which holdno scent, and another jump to the wall where there isno snow, and then—
"Oh, plenty of time, no hurry!" he says to himself,turning to listen a moment. "That dog with the bigvoice must be old Roby. He thinks he knows allabout foxes, just because he broke his leg last year,trying to walk a sheep-fence where I'd been. I'llgive him another chance; and oh, yes! I'll creep upthe other side of the hill, and curl up on a warm rockon the tiptop, and watch them all break their headsover the crisscross, and have a good nap or two, andthink of more tricks."[Pg 7]