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143 Works of John Burroughs

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The Bluebird

Story type: Poetry

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A wistful note from out the sky, “Pure, pure, pure,” in plaintive tone, As if the wand’rer were alone, And hardly knew to sing or cry. But now a flash of eager wing, Flitting, twinkling by the wall, And pleadings sweet and am’rous call,– Ah, now I know his heart doth sing! O bluebird, welcome […]

The Bluebird

Story type: Literature

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It is sure to be a bright March morning when you first hear the bluebird’s note; and it is as if the milder influences up above had found a voice and let a word fall upon your ear, so tender is it and so prophetic, a hope tinged with a regret. There never was a […]

The Crow

Story type: Literature

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The crow may not have the sweet voice which the fox in his flattery attributed to him, but he has a good, strong, native speech nevertheless. How much character there is in it! How much thrift and independence! Of course his plumage is firm, his color decided, his wit quick. He understands you at once […]

The Crow (poem)

Story type: Poetry

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I My friend and neighbor through the year, Self-appointed overseer Of my crops of fruit and grain, Of my woods and furrowed plain, Claim thy tithings right and left, I shall never call it theft. Nature wisely made the law, And I fail to find a flaw In thy title to the earth, And all […]

Daisies, clover, buttercup, Redtop, trefoil, meadowsweet, Ecstatic pinions, soaring up, Then gliding down to grassy seat. Sunshine, laughter, mad desires, May day, June day, lucid skies, All reckless moods that love inspires– The gladdest bird that sings and flies. Meadows, orchards, bending sprays, Rushes, lilies, billowy wheat, Song and frolic fill his days, A feathered […]

Downy came and dwelt with me, Taught me hermit lore; Drilled his cell in oaken tree Near my cabin door. Architect of his own home In the forest dim, Carving its inverted dome In a dozy limb. Carved it deep and shaped it true With his little bill; Took no thought about the view, Whether […]

The Partridge

Story type: Poetry

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List the booming from afar, Soft as hum of roving bee, Vague as when on distant bar Fall the cataracts of the sea. Yet again, a sound astray, Was it the humming of the mill? Was it cannon leagues away? Or dynamite beyond the hill? ‘T is the grouse with kindled soul, Wistful of his […]

When buckets shine ‘gainst maple trees And drop by drop the sap doth flow, When days are warm, but still nights freeze, And deep in woods lie drifts of snow, When cattle low and fret in stall, Then morning brings the phoebe’s call, “phoebe, phoebe, phoebe,” a cheery note, While cackling hens make such a […]

The Screech Owl

Story type: Literature

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At one point in the grayest, most shaggy part of the woods, I come suddenly upon a brood of screech owls, full grown, sitting together upon a dry, moss-draped limb, but a few feet from the ground. I pause within four or five yards of them and am looking about me, when my eye lights […]

The Northern Shrike

Story type: Literature

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Usually the character of a bird of prey is well defined; there is no mistaking him. His claws, his beak, his head, his wings, in fact his whole build, point to the fact that he subsists upon live creatures; he is armed to catch them and to slay them. Every bird knows a hawk and […]

The Hen-Hawk

Story type: Literature

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The Hen-hawk[1] August is the month of the high-sailing hawks. The hen-hawk is the most noticeable. He likes the haze and calm of these long, warm days. He is a bird of leisure, and seems always at his ease. How beautiful and majestic are his movements! So self-poised and easy, such an entire absence of […]

Whir! whir! whir! and a brood of half-grown partridges start up like an explosion, a few paces from me, and, scattering, disappear into the bushes on all sides. Let me sit down here behind the screen of ferns and briers, and hear this wild hen of the woods call together her brood. At what an […]

The Cedar-Bird

Story type: Literature

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How alert and vigilant the birds are, even when absorbed in building their nests! In an open space in the woods I see a pair of cedar-birds collecting moss from the top of a dead tree. Following the direction in which they fly, I soon discover the nest placed in the fork of a small […]

The Goldfinch

Story type: Literature

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About the most noticeable bird of August in New York and New England is the yellowbird, or goldfinch. This is one of the last birds to nest, seldom hatching its eggs till late in July. It seems as if a particular kind of food were required to rear its brood, which cannot be had at […]

The Winter Wren

Story type: Literature

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An old hemlock wood at the head waters of the Delaware is a chosen haunt of the winter wren. His voice fills these dim aisles, as if aided by some marvelous sounding-board. Indeed, his song is very strong for so small a bird, and unites in a remarkable degree brilliancy and plaintiveness. I think of […]

The Marsh Hawk

Story type: Literature

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A MARSH HAWK’S NEST, A YOUNG HAWK, AND A VISIT TO A QUAIL ON HER NEST Most country boys, I fancy, know the marsh hawk. It is he you see flying low over the fields, beating about bushes and marshes and dipping over the fences, with his attention directed to the ground beneath him. He […]

A SEARCH FOR A RARE NEST I had set out in hopes of finding a rare nest,–the nest of the black-throated blue-backed warbler, which, it seemed, with one or two others, was still wanting to make the history of our warblers complete. The woods were extensive, and full of deep, dark tangles, and looking for […]

The Whip-Poor-Will

Story type: Literature

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One day in May, walking in the woods, I came upon the nest of a whip-poor-will, or rather its eggs, for it builds no nest,–two elliptical whitish spotted eggs lying upon the dry leaves. My foot was within a yard of the mother bird before she flew. I wondered what a sharp eye would detect […]

The Baltimore Oriole

Story type: Literature

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The nest of nests, the ideal nest, is unquestionably that of the Baltimore oriole. It is the only perfectly pensile nest we have. The nest of the orchard oriole is indeed mainly so, but this bird generally builds lower and shallower, more after the manner of the vireos. The Baltimore oriole loves to attach its […]

The Wood Thrush

Story type: Literature

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The wood thrush is the handsomest species of the thrush family. In grace and elegance of manner he has no equal. Such a gentle, high-bred air, and such inimitable ease and composure in his flight and movement! He is a poet in very word and deed. His carriage is music to the eye. His performance […]

The Chimney Swift

Story type: Literature

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One day a swarm of honey-bees went into my chimney, and I mounted the stack to see into which flue they had gone. As I craned my neck above the sooty vent, with the bees humming about my ears, the first thing my eye rested upon in the black interior was a pair of long […]

The Oven-Bird

Story type: Literature

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Every loiterer about the woods knows this pretty, speckled-breasted, olive-backed little bird, which walks along over the dry leaves a few yards from him, moving its head as it walks, like a miniature domestic fowl. Most birds are very stiff-necked, like the robin, and as they run or hop upon the ground, carry the head […]

The Catbird

Story type: Literature

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It requires an effort for me to speak of the singing catbird as he; all the ways and tones of the bird seem so distinctly feminine. But it is, of course, only the male that sings. At times I hardly know whether I am more pleased or annoyed with him. Perhaps he is a little […]

The Bobolink

Story type: Literature

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The bobolink has a secure place in literature, having been laureated by no less a poet than Bryant, and invested with a lasting human charm in the sunny page of Irving, and is the only one of our songsters, I believe, that the mockingbird cannot parody or imitate. He affords the most marked example of […]

The Song Sparrow

Story type: Literature

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The first song sparrow’s nest I observed in the spring of 1881 was in a field under a fragment of a board, the board being raised from the ground a couple of inches by two poles. It had its full complement of eggs, and probably sent forth a brood of young birds, though as to […]

The House Wren

Story type: Literature

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A few years ago I put up a little bird-house in the back end of my garden for the accommodation of the wrens, and every season a pair have taken up their abode there. One spring a pair of bluebirds looked into the tenement and lingered about several days, leading me to hope that they […]

The Brown Thrasher

Story type: Literature

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Our long-tailed thrush, or thrasher, delights in a high branch of some solitary tree, whence it will pour out its rich and intricate warble for an hour together. This bird is the great American chipper. There is no other bird that I know of that can chip with such emphasis and military decision as this […]

The Chewink

Story type: Literature

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The chewink is a shy bird, but not stealthy. It is very inquisitive, and sets up a great scratching among the leaves, apparently to attract your attention. The male is perhaps the most conspicuously marked of all the ground-birds except the bobolink, being black above, bay on the sides, and white beneath. The bay is […]

The Chipping Sparrow

Story type: Literature

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When the true flycatcher catches a fly, it is quick business. There is no strife, no pursuit,–one fell swoop, and the matter is ended. Now note that yonder little sparrow is less skilled. It is the chippy, and he finds his subsistence properly in various seeds and the larvæ of insects, though he occasionally has […]

The Cowbird

Story type: Literature

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The cow blackbird is a noticeable songster in April, though it takes a back seat a little later. It utters a peculiarly liquid April sound. Indeed, one would think its crop was full of water, its notes so bubble up and regurgitate, and are delivered with such an apparent stomachic contraction. This bird is the […]

The Phoebe

Story type: Literature

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Another April bird whose memory I fondly cherish is the phoebe-bird, the pioneer of the flycatchers. In the inland farming districts, I used to notice him, on some bright morning about Easter Day, proclaiming his arrival, with much variety of motion and attitude, from the peak of the barn or hay-shed. As yet, you may […]

The Flicker

Story type: Literature

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Another April comer, who arrives shortly after Robin Redbreast, with whom he associates both at this season and in the autumn, is the golden-winged woodpecker, alias “high-hole,” alias “flicker,” alias “yarup,” alias “yellow-hammer.” He is an old favorite of my boyhood, and his note to me means very much. He announces his arrival by a […]

The Robin

Story type: Literature

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Not long after the bluebird comes the robin. In large numbers they scour the fields and groves. You hear their piping in the meadow, in the pasture, on the hillside. Walk in the woods, and the dry leaves rustle with the whir of their wings, the air is vocal with their cheery call. In excess […]

Who shall say when one season ends and another begins? Only the almanac-makers can fix these dates. It is like saying when babyhood ends and childhood begins, or when childhood ends and youth begins. To me spring begins when the catkins on the alders and the pussy-willows begin to swell; when the ice breaks up […]

The twilight flight song of the woodcock is one of the most curious and tantalizing yet interesting bird songs we have. I fancy that the persons who hear and recognize it in the April or May twilight are few and far between. I myself have heard it only on three occasions–one season in late March, […]

One winter, during four or five weeks of severe weather, several of our winter birds were pensioners upon my bounty,–three blue jays, two downy woodpeckers, three chickadees, and one kinglet,–and later a snowbird–junco–appeared. I fastened pieces of suet and marrow-bones upon the tree in front of my window, then, as I sat at my desk, […]

I It would not be easy to say which is our finest or most beautiful wild flower, but certainly the most poetic and the best beloved is the arbutus. So early, so lowly, so secretive there in the moss and dry leaves, so fragrant, tinged with the hues of youth and health, so hardy and […]

The distribution of our birds over the country in summer is like that of the people, quite uniform. Every wood and field has its quota, and no place so barren but it has some bird to visit it. One knows where to look for sparrows and thrushes and bobolinks and warblers and flycatchers. But the […]

To many forms of life of our northern lands, winter means a long sleep; to others it means what it means to many fortunate human beings–travels in warm climes; to still others, who again have their human prototypes, it means a struggle, more or less fierce, to keep soul and body together; while to many […]

That there is a deal of human nature in the lower animals is a very obvious fact; or we may turn the proposition around and say, with equal truth, that there is a deal of animal nature in us humans. If man is of animal origin, as we are now all coming to believe, how […]

Bird-Nesting Time

Story type: Literature

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The other day I sat for an hour watching a pair of wood thrushes engaged in building their nest near “Slabsides.” I say a pair, though the female really did all the work. The male hung around and was evidently an interested spectator of the proceeding. The mother bird was very busy bringing and placing […]

A Barn-Door Outlook

Story type: Literature

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I have a barn-door outlook because I have a hay-barn study, and I chose a hay-barn study because I wanted a barn-door outlook–a wide, near view into fields and woods and orchards where I could be on intimate terms with the wild life about me, and with free, open-air nature. Usually there is nothing small […]

The Downy Woodpecker

Story type: Literature

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I It always gives me a little pleasurable emotion when I see in the autumn woods where the downy woodpecker has just been excavating his winter quarters in a dead limb or tree-trunk. I am walking along a trail or wood-road when I see something like coarse new sawdust scattered on the ground. I know […]

An Astonished Porcupine

Story type: Literature

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One summer, while three young people and I were spending an afternoon upon a mountaintop, our dogs treed a porcupine. At my suggestion the young man climbed the tree–not a large one–to shake the animal down. I wished to see what the dogs would do with him, and what the “quill-pig” would do with the […]

The Wit Of A Duck

Story type: Literature

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The homing instinct in birds and animals is one of their most remarkable traits: their strong local attachments and their skill in finding their way back when removed to a distance. It seems at times as if they possessed some extra sense–the home sense–which operates unerringly. I saw this illustrated one spring in the case […]

A Bed Of Boughs

Story type: Literature

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When Aaron came again to camp and tramp with me, or, as he wrote, “to eat locusts and wild honey with me in the wilderness,” it was past the middle of August, and the festival of the season neared its close. We were belated guests, but perhaps all the more eager on that account, especially […]

Pope said that a middling poet was no poet at all. Middling things in art or in any field of human endeavor do not arouse our enthusiasm, and it is enthusiasm that fans the fires of life. There are all degrees of excellence, but in poetry one is always looking for the best. Pope himself […]

I Emerson’s fame as a writer and thinker was firmly established during his lifetime by the books he gave to the world. His Journals, published over a quarter of a century after his death, nearly or quite double the bulk of his writing, and while they do not rank in literary worth with his earlier […]

I HAVE said on a former occasion that “the true poet knows more about Nature than the naturalist, because he carries her open secrets in his heart. Eckermann could instruct Goethe in ornithology, but could not Goethe instruct Eckermann in the meaning and mystery of the bird?” But the poets sometimes rely too confidently upon […]

Spring in our northern climate may fairly be said to extend from the middle of March to the middle of June. At least, the vernal tide continues to rise until the latter date, and it is not till after the summer solstice that the shoots and twigs begin to harden and turn to wood, or […]

Birch Browsings

Story type: Essay

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The region of which I am about to speak lies in the southern part of the state of New York, and comprises parts of three counties,–Ulster, Sullivan and Delaware. It is drained by tributaries of both the Hudson and Delaware, and, next to the Adirondack section, contains more wild land than any other tract in […]

The Adirondacks

Story type: Essay

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When I went to the Adirondacks, which was in the summer of 1863, I was in the first flush of my ornithological studies, and was curious, above else, to know what birds I should find in these solitudes,–what new ones, and what ones already known to me. In visiting vast primitive, far-off woods one naturally […]

Birds’-Nests

Story type: Essay

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How alert and vigilant the birds are, even when absorbed in building their nests! In an open space in the woods I see a pair of cedar-birds collecting moss from the top of a dead tree. Following the direction in which they fly, I soon discover the nest placed in the fork of a small […]

I came to Washington to live in the fall of 1863, and, with the exception of a month each summer spent in the interior of New York, have lived here ever since. I saw my first novelty in Natural History the day after my arrival. As I was walking near some woods north of the […]

In The Hemlocks

Story type: Essay

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Most people receive with incredulity a statement of the number of birds that annually visit our climate. Very few even are aware of half the number that spend the summer in their own immediate vicinity. We little suspect, when we walk in the woods, whose privacy we are intruding upon,–what rare and elegant visitants from […]

The Vital Order

Story type: Essay

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I The mechanistic theory of life–the theory that all living things can be explained and fully accounted for on purely physico-chemical principles–has many defenders in our day. The main aim of the foregoing chapters is to point out the inadequacy of this view. At the risk of wearying my reader I am going to collect […]

I Emerson confessed in his “Journal” that he could not read the physicists; their works did not appeal to him. He was probably repelled by their formulas and their mathematics. But add a touch of chemistry, and he was interested. Chemistry leads up to life. He said he did not think he would feel threatened […]

I William James said that one of the privileges of a philosopher was to contradict other philosophers. I may add in the same spirit that one of the fatalities of many philosophers is, sooner or later, to contradict themselves. I do not know that James ever contradicted himself, but I have little doubt that a […]

In my youth I once heard the then well-known lecturer Starr King speak on “The Law of Disorder.” I have no recollection of the main thought of his discourse, but can see that it might have been upon the order and harmony that finally come out of the disharmonies of nature and of man. The […]

I Still the problem of living things haunts my mind and, let me warn my reader, will continue to haunt it throughout the greater part of this volume. The final truth about it refuses to be spoken. Every effort to do so but gives one new evidence of how insoluble the problem is. In this […]

Life And Mind

Story type: Essay

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I There are three kinds of change in the world in which we live–physical and mechanical change which goes on in time and place among the tangible bodies about us, chemical change which goes on in the world of hidden molecules and atoms of which bodies are composed, and vital change which involves the two […]

I There is one phase of the much-discussed question of the nature and origin of life which, so far as I know, has not been considered either by those who hold a brief for the physico-chemical view or by those who stand for some form of vitalism or idealism. I refer to the small part […]

I All living bodies, when life leaves them, go back to the earth from whence they came. What was it in the first instance that gathered their elements from the earth and built them up into such wonderful mechanisms? If we say it was nature, do we mean by nature a physical force or an […]

I The limited and peculiar activity which arises in matter and which we call vital; which comes and goes; which will not stay to be analyzed; which we in vain try to reproduce in our laboratories; which is inseparable from chemistry and physics, but which is not summed up by them; which seems to use […]

I WHEREVER Nature has commissioned one creature to prey upon another, she has preserved the balance by forewarning that other creature of what she has done. Nature says to the cat, “Catch the mouse,” and she equips her for that purpose; but on the selfsame day she says to the mouse, “Be wary,–the cat is […]

The Living Wave

Story type: Essay

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I If one attempts to reach any rational conclusion on the question of the nature and origin of life on this planet, he soon finds himself in close quarters with two difficulties. He must either admit of a break in the course of nature and the introduction of a new principle, the vital principle, which, […]

I When for the third or fourth time during the spring or summer I take my hoe and go out and cut off the heads of the lusty burdocks that send out their broad leaves along the edge of my garden or lawn, I often ask myself, “What is this thing that is so hard […]

Birds And Poets

Story type: Essay

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“In summer, when the shawes be shene,And leaves be large and long,It is full merry in fair forestTo hear the fowles’ song.The wood-wele sang, and wolde not cease,Sitting upon the spray;So loud, it wakened Robin HoodIn the greenwood where he lay.” It might almost be said that the birds are all birds of the poets […]

I Science recognizes a more fundamental world than that of matter. This is the electro-magnetic world which underlies the material world and which, as Professor Soddy says, probably completely embraces it, and has no mechanical analogy. To those accustomed only to the grosser ideas of matter and its motions, says the British scientist, this electro-magnetic […]

Before Genius

Story type: Essay

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If there did not something else go to the making of literature besides mere literary parts, even the best of them, how long ago the old bards and the Biblical writers would have been superseded by the learned professors and the gentlemanly versifiers of later times! Is there to-day a popular poet, using the English […]

Before Beauty

Story type: Essay

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I Before genius is manliness, and before beauty is power. The Russian novelist and poet, Turgenieff, scattered all through whose works you will find unmistakable traits of greatness, makes one of his characters say, speaking of beauty, “The old masters,–they never hunted after it; it comes of itself into their compositions, God knows whence, from […]

A Bird Medley

Story type: Essay

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People who have not made friends with the birds do not know how much they miss. Especially to one living in the country, of strong local attachments and an observing turn of mind, does an acquaintance with the birds form a close and invaluable tie. The only time I saw Thomas Carlyle, I remember his […]

Spring Poems

Story type: Essay

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There is no month oftener on the tongues of the poets than April. It is the initiative month; it opens the door of the seasons; the interest and expectations of the untried, the untasted, lurk in it, “From you have I been absent in the spring,” says Shakespeare in one of his sonnets,– “When proud-pied […]

I wonder that Wilson Flagg did not include the cow among his “Picturesque Animals,” for that is where she belongs. She has not the classic beauty of the horse, but in picture-making qualities she is far ahead of him. Her shaggy, loose-jointed body; her irregular, sketchy outlines, like those of the landscape,–the hollows and ridges, […]

The life of the birds, especially of our migratory song-birds, is a series of adventures and of hair-breadth escapes by flood and field. Very few of them probably die a natural death, or even live out half their appointed days. The home instinct is strong in birds as it is in most creatures; and I […]

There is no creature with which man has surrounded himself that seems so much like a product of civilization, so much like the result of development on special lines and in special fields, as the honey-bee. Indeed, a colony of bees, with their neatness and love of order, their division of labor, their public spiritedness, […]

The honey-bee goes forth from the hive in spring like the dove from Noah’s ark, and it is not till after many days that she brings back the olive leaf, which in this case is a pellet of golden pollen upon each hip, usually obtained from the alder or the swamp willow. In a country […]

Emerson

Story type: Essay

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Wherein the race has so far lost and gained, in being transplanted from Europe to the New England soil and climate, is well illustrated by the writings of Emerson. There is greater refinement and sublimation of thought, greater clearness and sharpness of outline, greater audacity of statement, but, on the other hand, there is a […]

TO WALT WHITMAN “‘I, thirty-six years old, in perfect health, begin,Hoping to cease not till death.’”CHANTS DEMOCRATIC. “They say that thou art sick, art growing old,Thou Poet of unconquerable health,With youth far-stretching, through the golden wealthOf autumn, to Death’s frostful, friendly cold.The never-blenching eyes, that did beholdLife’s fair and foul, with measureless content,And gaze ne’er […]

Bird Enemies

Story type: Essay

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How surely the birds know their enemies! See how the wrens and robins and bluebirds pursue and scold the cat, while they take little or no notice of the dog! Even the swallow will fight the cat, and, relying too confidently upon its powers of flight, sometimes swoops down so near to its enemy that […]

The traveler and camper-out in Maine, unless he penetrates its more northern portions, has less reason to remember it as a pine-tree State than a birch-tree State. The white-pine forests have melted away like snow in the spring and gone down stream, leaving only patches here and there in the more remote and inaccessible parts. […]

The country is more of a wilderness, more of a wild solitude, in the winter than in the summer. The wild comes out. The urban, the cultivated, is hidden or negatived. You shall hardly know a good field from a poor, a meadow from a pasture, a park from a forest. Lines and boundaries are […]

Sharp Eyes

Story type: Essay

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Noting how one eye seconds and reinforces the other, I have often amused myself by wondering what the effect would be if one could go on opening eye after eye to the number say of a dozen or more. What would he see? Perhaps not the invisible–not the odors of flowers nor the fever germs […]

The Apple

Story type: Essay

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Lo! sweetened with the summer light,The full-juiced apple, waxing over-mellow,Drops in a silent autumn night.–TENNYSON. Not a little of the sunshine of our northern winters is surely wrapped up in the apple. How could we winter over without it! How is life sweetened by its mild acids! A cellar well filled with apples is more […]

I. THE WEATHER-WISE MUSKRAT I am more than half persuaded that the muskrat is a wise little animal, and that on the subject of the weather, especially, he possesses some secret that I should be glad to know. In the fall of 1878 I noticed that he built unusually high and massive nests. I noticed […]

Babes In The Woods

Story type: Literature

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One day in early May, Ted and I made an expedition to the Shattega, a still, dark, deep stream that loiters silently through the woods not far from my cabin. As we paddled along, we were on the alert for any bit of wild life of bird or beast that might turn up. There were […]

I have thought that a good test of civilization, perhaps one of the best, is country life. Where country life is safe and enjoyable, where many of the conveniences and appliances of the town are joined to the large freedom and large benefits of the country, a high state of civilization prevails. Is there any […]

He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter. It is true the pomp and the pageantry are swept away, but the essential elements remain,–the day and the night, the mountain and the valley, the elemental play and succession and the perpetual presence […]

The day was indeed white, as white as three feet of snow and a cloudless St. Valentine’s sun could make it. The eye could not look forth without blinking, or veiling itself with tears. The patch of plowed ground on the top of the hill, where the wind had blown the snow away, was as […]

Speckled Trout

Story type: Literature

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I The legend of the wary trout, hinted at in the last sketch, is to be further illustrated in this and some following chapters. We shall get at more of the meaning of those dark water-lines, and I hope, also, not entirely miss the significance of the gold and silver spots and the glancing iridescent […]

On looking at the southern and more distant Catskills from the Hudson River on the east, or on looking at them from the west from some point of vantage in Delaware County, you see, amid the group of mountains, one that looks like the back and shoulders of a gigantic horse. The horse has got […]

Flies In Amber

Story type: Essay

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It has been the fashion among our younger writers to speak slightingly and flippantly of Emerson, referring to him as outworn, and as the apostle of the obvious. This view is more discreditable to the young people than is their criticism damaging to Emerson. It can make little difference to Emerson’s fame, but it would […]

I After Emerson, the name of no New England man of letters keeps greener and fresher than that of Thoreau. A severe censor of his countrymen, and with few elements of popularity, yet the quality of his thought, the sincerity of his life, and the nearness and perennial interest of his themes, as well as […]

Day By Day

Story type: Essay

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We often hear it said of a man that he was born too early, or too late, but is it ever true? If he is behind his times, would he not have been behind at whatever period he had been born? If he is ahead of his times, is not the same thing true? In […]

I It is never safe to question Darwin’s facts, but it is always safe to question any man’s theories. It is with Darwin’s theories that I am mainly concerned here. He has already been shorn of his selection doctrines as completely as Samson was shorn of his locks, but there are other phases of his […]

THE TRANSIENT AND THE PERMANENT The clouds are transient, but the sky is permanent. The petals of a flowering plant are transient, the leaves and fruit are less so, and the roots the least transient of all. The dew on the grass is transient, as is the frost of an autumn morning. The snows and […]

The Long Road

Story type: Essay

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I The long road I have in mind is the long road of evolution,–the road you and I have traveled in the guise of humbler organisms, from the first unicellular life in the old Cambrian seas to the complex and highly specialized creature that rules supreme in the animal kingdom to-day. Surely a long journey, […]

Gleanings

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I do not believe that one poet can or does efface another, as Arnold suggests. As every gas is a vacuum to every other gas, so every new poet is a vacuum to every other poet. Wordsworth told Arnold that for many years his poems did not bring him enough to buy his shoestrings. The […]

Sundown Papers

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RE-READING BERGSON I am trying again to read Bergson’s “Creative Evolution,” with poor success. When I recall how I was taken with the work ten or more years ago, and carried it with me whenever I went from home, I am wondering if my mind has become too old and feeble to take it in. […]

I How habitually we go about over the surface of the earth, delving it or cultivating it or leveling it, without thinking that it has not always been as we now find it, that the mountains were not always mountains, nor the valleys always valleys, nor the plains always plains, nor the sand always sand, […]

I In making the journey to the great Southwest,–Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona,–if one does not know his geology, he is pretty sure to wish he did, there is so much geology scattered over all these Southwestern landscapes, crying aloud to be read. The book of earthly revelation, as shown by the great science, lies […]

I Yosemite won my heart at once, as it seems to win the hearts of all who visit it. In my case many things helped to do it, but I am sure a robin, the first I had seen since leaving home, did his part. He struck the right note, he brought the scene home […]

Primal Energies

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How puny and meagre is the utmost power man can put forth, even by the aid of all his mechanical appliances, when compared with the primal earth forces! Think, or try to think, of the force of pressure that causes the rock-strata to buckle or crumple or bend–layers of rock, thousands of feet thick, made […]

I find myself accepting certain things on the authority of science which so far transcend my experience, and the experience of the race and all the knowledge of the world, in fact which come so near being unthinkable, that I call my acceptance of them an act of scientific faith. One’s reason may be convinced […]

I On the edge of the world my islands lie,” sings Mrs. Frear in her little lyric on the Hawaiian Islands. “On the edge of the world my islands lie,Under the sun-steeped sky;And their waving palmsAre bounteous almsTo the soul-spent passer-by. “On the edge of the world my islands sleepIn a slumber soft and deep.What […]

I He was a bold man who first conceived the idea of the great continental ice-sheet which in Pleistocene times covered most of the northern part of the continent, and played such a part in shaping the land as we know it. That bold man was Agassiz, who, however, was not bold enough to accept […]

I never tire of contemplating the soil itself, the mantle rock, as the geologist calls it. It clothes the rocky framework of the earth as the flesh clothes our bones. It is the seat of the vitality of the globe, the youngest part, the growing, changing part. Out of it we came, and to it […]

I The other day a clergyman who described himself as a preacher of the gospel of Christ wrote, asking me to come and talk to his people on the gospel of Nature. The request set me to thinking whether or not Nature has any gospel in the sense the clergyman had in mind, any message […]

I I take the title of this paper from those great lines in Whitman beginning– “Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me”– in which he launches in vivid imaginative form the whole doctrine of evolution some years before Darwin had published his epoch-making work on the “Origin of Species.” “I see afar down the […]

I Bergson, the new French philosopher, thinks we all had a narrow escape, back in geologic time, of having our eggs spoiled before they were hatched, or, rather, rendered incapable of hatching by too thick a shell. This was owing to the voracity of the early organisms. As they became more and more mobile, they […]

When our minds have expanded sufficiently to take in and accept the theory of evolution, with what different feelings we look upon the visible universe from those with which our fathers looked upon it! Evolution makes the universe alive. In its light we see that mysterious potency of matter itself, that something in the clod […]

Springs

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“I’ll show thee the best springs.”–TEMPEST. A MAN who came back to the place of his birth in the East, after an absence of a quarter of a century in the West, said the one thing he most desired to see about the old homestead was the spring. This, at least, he would find unchanged. […]

Footpaths

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AN intelligent English woman, spending a few years in this country with her family, says that one of her serious disappointments is that she finds it utterly impossible to enjoy nature here as she can at home–so much nature as we have and yet no way of getting at it; no paths, or byways, or […]

WHEN one summer day I bethought me of a voyage down the east or Pepacton branch of the Delaware, I seemed to want some excuse for the start, some send-off, some preparation, to give the enterprise genesis and head. This I found in building my own boat. It was a happy thought. How else should […]

THERE is always a new page to be turned in natural history, if one is sufficiently on the alert. I did not know that the eagle celebrated his nuptials in the air till one early spring day I saw a pair of them fall from the sky with talons hooked together. They dropped a hundred […]

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road.WALT WHITMAN. Ocasionally on the sidewalk, amid the dapper, swiftly moving, high-heeled boots and gaiters, I catch a glimpse of the naked human foot. Nimbly it scuffs along, the toes spread, the sides flatten, the heel protrudes; it grasps the curbing, or bends to the form of […]

I have already spoken of the fox at some length, but it will take a chapter by itself to do half justice to his portrait. He furnishes, perhaps, the only instance that can be cited of a fur-bearing animal that not only holds its own, but that actually increases in the face of the means […]

Winter Sunshine

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An American resident in England is reported as saying that the English have an atmosphere but no climate. The reverse of this remark would apply pretty accurately to our own case. We certainly have a climate, a two-edged one that cuts both ways, threatening us with sun-stroke on the one hand and with frost-stroke on […]

FRAGRANT WILD FLOWERS The charge that was long ago made against our wild flowers by English travelers in this country, namely, that they are odorless, doubtless had its origin in the fact that, whereas in England the sweet-scented flowers are among the most common and conspicuous, in this country they are rather shy and withdrawn, […]

Winter Pictures

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A WHITE DAY AND A RED FOX The day was indeed white, as white as three feet of snow and a cloudless St. Valentine’s sun could make it. The eye could not look forth without blinking, or veiling itself with tears. The patch of plowed ground on the top of the hill, where the wind […]

I. MELLOW ENGLAND I will say at the outset, as I believe some one else has said on a like occasion, that in this narrative I shall probably describe myself more than the objects I look upon. The facts and particulars of the case have already been set down in the guidebooks and in innumerable […]

Squirrels

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Walking through the early October woods one day, I came upon a place where the ground was thickly strewn with very large unopened chestnut burrs. On examination I found that every burr had been cut square off with about an inch of the stem adhering, and not one had been left on the tree. It […]

The Chipmunk

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The first chipmunk in March is as sure a token of the spring as the first bluebird or the first robin, and is quite as welcome. Some genial influence has found him out there in his burrow, deep under the ground, and waked him up, and enticed him forth into the light of day. The […]

ON THE POTOMAC March 1.–The first day of spring and the first spring day! I felt the change the moment I put my head out of doors in the morning. A fitful, gusty south wind was blowing, though the sky was clear. But the sunlight was not the same. There was an interfusion of a […]

Autumn Tides

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The season is always a little behind the sun in our climate, just as the tide is always a little behind the moon. According to the calendar, the summer ought to culminate about the 21st of June, but in reality it is some weeks later; June is a maiden month all through. It is not […]

The Skunk

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In February a new track appears upon the snow, slender and delicate, about a third larger than that of the gray squirrel, indicating no haste or speed, but, on the contrary, denoting the most imperturbable ease and leisure, the footprints so close together that the trail appears like a chain of curiously carved links. Sir […]

The Fox

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It has been many a long day since I heard a fox bark, but in my youth among the Catskills I often heard the sound, especially of a still moonlight night in midwinter. Perhaps it was more a cry than a bark, not continuous like the baying of a dog, but uttered at intervals. One […]

The Muskrat

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It sometimes looks as if the muskrat were weather-wise and could forecast the coming season. I doubt if a long series of observations would bear out the truth of this remark, yet I have noticed that in his nest-building he sometimes hits the mark with surprising accuracy. In the fall of 1878 I observed that […]

The Woodchuck

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In the Middle and Eastern States our woodchuck takes the place, in some respects, of the English rabbit, burrowing in every hillside and under every stone wall and jutting ledge and large boulder, whence it makes raids upon the grass and clover and sometimes upon the garden vegetables. It is quite solitary in its habits, […]

With us the hare is of the remote northern woods, the rabbit is of the fields and bushy margins of the woods. One retreats before man and civilization, the other follows in their wake. The rabbit is now common in parts of our State (New York) where in my boyhood only the hare was found. […]

Wild Mice

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One of the prettiest and most abundant of our native mice is the deer mouse, also called the white-footed mouse; a very beautiful creature, nocturnal in his habits, with large ears, and large, fine eyes full of a wild, harmless look. He is daintily marked, with white feet and a white belly. When disturbed by […]

The Porcupine

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Among our wild animals there are three that are slow-moving, dull-witted, and almost fearless,–the skunk, the opossum, and the porcupine. The two latter seem to be increasing in most parts of the country. The opossum is becoming quite common in the valley of the Hudson, and the porcupine is frequently met with in parts of […]

The Opossum

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A new track has appeared upon the snow in my neighborhood here on the Hudson within the past few years. It is a strange track, and suggests some small, deformed human hand. If the dwarfs or brownies we read of in childhood were to walk abroad in winter, they might leave such an imprint behind […]

The Mink

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In walking through the woods one day in early winter, we read upon the newly fallen snow the record of a mink’s fright the night before. The mink had been traveling through the woods post-haste, not along the watercourses where one sees them by day, but over ridges and across valleys. We followed his track […]

The Raccoon

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In March that brief summary of a bear, the raccoon, comes out of his den in the ledges, and leaves his sharp digitigrade track upon the snow,–traveling not unfrequently in pairs,–a lean, hungry couple, bent on pillage and plunder. They have an unenviable time of it,–feasting in the summer and fall, hibernating in winter, and […]

The Weasel

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My most interesting note of the season of 1893 relates to a weasel. One day in early November, my boy and I were sitting on a rock at the edge of a tamarack swamp in the woods, hoping to get a glimpse of some grouse which we knew were in the habit of feeding in […]

Strawberries

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Was it old Dr. Parr who said or sighed in his last illness, “Oh, if I can only live till strawberries come!” The old scholar imagined that, if he could weather it till then, the berries would carry him through. No doubt he had turned from the drugs and the nostrums, or from the hateful […]

I suspect that, like most countrymen, I was born with a chronic anxiety about the weather. Is it going to rain or snow, be hot or cold, wet or dry?–are inquiries upon which I would fain get the views of every man I meet, and I find that most men are fired with the same […]

So fond am I of seeing Nature reassert herself that I even found some compensation in the loss of my chickens that bright November night when some wild creature, coon or fox, swept two of them out of the evergreens, and their squawking as they were hurried across the lawn called me from my bed […]

A Life Of Fear

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As I sat looking from my window the other morning upon a red squirrel gathering nuts from a small hickory, and storing them up in his den in the bank, I was forcibly reminded of the state of constant fear and apprehension in which the wild creatures live, and I tried to picture to myself […]

Birds’s-nesting is by no means a failure, even though you find no birds’-nests. You are sure to find other things of interest, plenty of them. A friend of mine says that, in his youth, he used to go hunting with his gun loaded for wild turkeys, and, though he frequently saw plenty of smaller game, […]

The halcyon or kingfisher is a good guide when you go to the woods. He will not insure smooth water or fair weather, but he knows every stream and lake like a book, and will take you to the wildest and most unfrequented places. Follow his rattle and you shall see the source of every […]

Birds And Birds

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I There is an old legend which one of our poets has made use of about the bird in the brain,–a legend based, perhaps, upon the human significance of our feathered neighbors. Was not Audubon’s brain full of birds, and very lively ones, too? A person who knew him says he looked like a bird […]