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As long as man has lived on this earth, he has been powerfully influenced by the world of nature. To tribesmen in very early times, fire seemed a mysterious spirit, willing to help man where rightly used; capable of destroying him and his property when enraged. One people had a legend that Prometheus, a friend of man, stole fire from heaven so that men might equal gods. The same mystery surrounded the movements of the heavenly bodies. Many ancient peoples worshiped the sun as the source of light and life. The moon was a pale goddess, exerting wide influence on men and their fortunes. Through many centuries the stars were supposed to bring fortune or disaster. Indeed, the word "disaster” itself refers to evil stars. We still say, sometimes, “my stars!” or “my lucky star.” Shakespeare speaks often of this influence of the stars upon men, and Napoleon, who lived only a century ago, believed implicitly in the influence of his star upon his fortunes. Savage tribes, and ignorant men even today, see in the appearance of comets portents of disaster. Panics are still known in certain parts of the earth when there is an eclipse of the sun. The Teutonic tribes of northern Europe believed that thunder was caused by the hammer of Thor, one of their divinities; the ancient Greeks thought it was the voice of Jove; many Christian peoples, even, have regarded great storms as manifestations of God's anger.
In large part, these ideas and many others like them have been due to ignorance about Nature. Fire, lightning, eclipses, the cause of great storms, earthquakes, the mystery of the seathese were not understood and therefore were thought to be caused by the gods. By many peoples the kindly aspects of Nature were also attributed to supernatural agencies. There were divinities of the harvest, of the wood, of the rain, of the months and seasons. The wood and the water were inhabited by lesser deities. The origin of the flowers was explained by this religion of Nature. Thus men in all ages have felt the influence of Nature upon them and have sought to explain it, in art and song and story, and in religion as well.
We have won from Nature many of her secrets now. We have chained the lightning so that it pulls long trains of cars, puts the complicated machinery of a great factory into motion, performs more services in our daily lives than ever the genius called forth by Aladdin's lamp. We have learned secrets of the air, so that we can project the human voice through innumerable leagues, though no wires or other visible means are used. The deeds that the forces of Nature perform through man's bidding are so astounding that the stories of what ancient peoples thought their nature gods could do seem small and insignificant. Even the imagination of man has been surpassed by the wonders he has learned to perform.
Yet the influence of Nature is none the less real, nor are her secrets all discovered. Part of our business in this life is to establish relations with the world in which we live. If we move into a big house set in the midst of a large plot of ground, we get acquainted with the rooms of this house, with the furniture, with its conveniences and inconveniences, with every part of the ground that surrounds the house, with the trees and flowers and animals that are near us. It is into such a house that we come when we are born. It has many pleasant outlooks; it has also many drawbacks. It is not just a place for eating and sleeping and working and playing. There are people to get acquainted with. There is the body which is our house to get acquainted with. We must learn to find our way around. And we look out through the windows of our eyes and seek to relate ourselves to the world of nature outside. Animals have personalities like human beings. One may learn secrets of nature from the brook, from the forest, from the birds. There is wonder and magic in the world. We use the conveniences that science has brought to us; we should also realize the wonder of the world. Always
there are the passing days with sunrise and high noon and the evening star. Always there is the magic of spring or of the day in June or of the first snowfall. And always there are lives about us, insects and birds and four-legged creatures and inhabitants of lake and sea. The world of nature is full of life and mystery. Through science, and through what poets and other keen observers have set down for us in books, we shall be able to make our way about and to add beauty and interest to our lives.
In the selections that follow, some materials are given you as guides to this exploration. There are stories of adventure among animals. After that you find something of the life of birds, with some thoughts of the influence of these upon the lives of men. You will learn how an American poet was inspired, at a moment of great uncertainty in his own life, by the sight of a waterfowl following its sure course through the trackless air. The Introduction to this book has already made use of one of the poems about the skylark; you will find others here, including Shelley's beautiful ode and Shakespeare's song. Rupert Brooke's poem about the pine-trees has already been brought to you; compare with it Emerson's poem about the Rhodora and Tennyson's idea that all the secrets of life and of man's relation to God are bound up, if we could only understand, in the little flower that grows out of the wall. Then there are the seasons, and poems about running streams and the ocean and the air. In many of these
of these selections you are dealing not with science, the knowledge of the facts of nature as you get these facts from geography or botany or chemistry, but with facts as interpreted through the imagination of the poets. In others you have examples of what men of scientific training have observed in their studies of nature. You need both; one study supplements the other; both are the means by which you establish relations between the soul that is you and the outside world which is to be your home for the years of your life.
Five years ago in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho there was a beautiful little foal. His coat was bright bay; his legs, mane, and tail were glossy black-coal black and bright bayso they named him Coaly-Bay.
"Coaly-Bay" sounds like “Kolibey,” which is an Arab title of nobility, and those who saw the handsome colt, and did not know how he came by the name, thought he must be of Arab blood. No doubt he was, in a far-away sense; just as all our best horses
have Arab blood, and once in a while it seems to come out strong 10 and show in every part of the creature, in his frame, his power, and his wild, free, roving spirit.
Coaly-Bay loved to race like the wind; he gloried in his speed and his tireless legs; when he was careering with the herd of colts,
if they met a fence or ditch, it was as natural for Coaly-Bay to 15 overleap it as it was for the others to sheer off. *See Suggestions for Silent Reading, p. 632.