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A Barn-Door Outlook
by [?]

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 or stingy about a barn door, and a farmer’s hay-barn puts only a very thin partition between you and the outside world. Therefore, what could be a more fit place to thresh out dry philosophical subjects than a barn floor? I have a few such subjects to thresh out, and I thresh them here, turning them over as many times as we used to turn over the oat and rye sheaves in the old days when I wielded the hickory flail with my brothers on this same barn floor.

What a pleasure it is to look back to those autumn days, generally in September or early October, when we used to thresh out a few bushels of the new crop of rye to be taken to the grist-mill for a fresh supply of flour! How often we paused in our work to munch apples that had been mellowing in the haymow by our side, and look out through the big doorway upon the sunlit meadows and hill-slopes! The sound of the flail is heard in the old barn no more, but in its stead the scratching of a pen and the uneasy stirring of a man seated there behind a big box, threshing out a harvest for a loaf of much less general value.

As I sit here day after day, bending over my work, I get many glimpses of the little rills of wild life that circulate about me. The feature of it that impresses me most is the life of fear that most of the wild creatures lead. They are as alert and cautious as are the picket-lines of opposing armies. Just over the line of stone wall in the orchard a woodchuck comes hesitatingly out of his hole and goes nibbling in the grass not fifty feet away. How alert and watchful he is! Every few moments he sits upright and takes an observation, then resumes his feeding. When I make a slight noise he rushes to the cover of the stone wall. Then, as no danger appears, he climbs to the top of it and looks in my direction. As I move as if to get up, he drops back quietly to his hole.

A chipmunk comes along on the stone wall, hurrying somewhere on an important errand, but changing his course every moment. He runs on the top of the wall, then along its side, then into it and through it and out on the other side, pausing every few seconds and looking and listening, careful not to expose himself long in any one position, really skulking and hiding all along his journey. His enemies are keen and watchful and likely to appear at any moment, and he knows it, not so much by experience as by instinct. His young are timid and watchful the first time they emerge from the den into the light of day.

Then a red squirrel comes spinning along. By jerks and nervous, spasmodic spurts he rushes along from cover to cover like a soldier dodging the enemy’s bullets. When he discovers me, he pauses, and with one paw on his heart appears to press a button, that lets off a flood of snickering, explosive sounds that seem like ridicule of me and my work. Failing to get any response from me, he presently turns, and, springing from the wall to the bending branch of a near apple-tree, he rushes up and disappears amid the foliage. Presently I see him on the end of a branch, where he seizes a green apple not yet a third grown, and, darting down to a large horizontal branch, sits up with the apple in his paws and proceeds to chip it up for the pale, unripe seeds at its core, all the time keenly alive to possible dangers that may surround him. What a nervous, hustling, highstrung creature he is–a live wire at all times and places! That pert curl of the end of his tail, as he sits chipping the apple or cutting through the shell of a nut, is expressive of his character. What a contrast his nervous and explosive activity presents to the more sedate and dignified life of the gray squirrel! One of these passed us only a few yards away on our walk in the woods the other day–a long, undulating line of soft gray, silent as a spirit and graceful as a wave on the beach.