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BOYHOOD AND BIRDS.
THE Hunter Naturalist is formed in childhood. "The little leaven that leaveneth the whole lump," commenceth its strange ferment in that unconscious time when the sun is yet the gol. den wonder, and all of earth's apparelings glitter in the splendor of the dew.
Why is it that with our scathed brows relaxed we watch the gambols of the "little ones” with such pleasure? Is it not that the sweet simplicity and natural grace of every im- . pulse and movement of the healthy child recalls our earliest associations of the lovable, the piquant and the pleasing, as exhibited in the life of the Natural World ?
We may grow to be paste-board, and painted men and women, to be sure, and learn to admire the antics of bedizened monkeys, which would be even miscalled “Human Brats!" —but such terrific perversions, thanks to the illimitable blue that is universed in the deep eye of one true child of God and Nature !—can do little harm. We pity while we despiseyet, in the other, the chubby insolence of exuberant fun provokes the laughter of deep joy. Ha! ha! we laugh, and let our sides go quaking with the tranquil stir of bliss that God has left us something natural even in the children of our loins as well as in his "unhoused wilds !"
If I feel now that the sanctifying pleasure of renewing the reminiscences of my earlier life in connection with Birds, and Flowers, and wild scenes, can afford to others a proxi. mate gratification to that which they have afforded me in the act of recalling them, I may perhaps be pardoned for making as nearly as is possible “a free breast of it!"
I must therefore be permitted to confess, after my own fashion, one of the first, of the many droll troubles, in which the Hunter Naturalist in the earlier stages of his experiences and development is liable to be involved.
While yet a boy, I had one, out of a number of sisters, who, being nearest my own age, became naturally my espe cial playmate. She had dark lustrous eyes, delicate features, and a form lithe, supple and elastic as that of a she wild-cat; and like that creature also, possessed a marvellous facility of ascension—that is, she had a faculty of ascending, by that indefinite process called “climbing," the uttermost boughs of plumb trees, apple trees, cherry trees, pears trees, &c., &c., -as also the tops of fences, barns, houses and such like!
She was, hence and therefore, quite generally christened Tom-boy”—but, if ever any vulgar sense of that phase was misapplied, it was in this instance, as characterizing a severe audacity—that, as it was above fear or thought of evil, never dreamed in its pride of the possibility of misconstruction.
She was fearless, because God had gifted her thus in her innocence that she dreaded not his Justice!
She was my dainty compeer and companion in many an enthusiastic forage into the wild domains of Nature.
I shall proceed to relate one of the most memorable of these in which she assisted me, as only her sex could have done, in relation to some young
" MOCKING BIRDS IN A STRANGE NEST":
It must be premised that, at the settlement of Kentucky, the mocking bird (Turdus polyglottus) was not known in the land as a resident; but that, when the war-whoop had ceased to affright the silence, and the ring of the deadly rifle given way to the peaceful clang of scythes, whetted by mowers in the broad, green, smiling meadows, then the king of song. birds made his appearance, and took possession of the fair land, as of a rightful heritage.
To be sure, it had been seen before this, and the hunters knew its white-barred wings from afar off, but not its name; nor had they heard its song. It had always shown itself wild and shy in the extreme- -as if it were a mere passenger through an evil country, and feared to rest the soles of its feet upon a soil that was accursed. But, with the blooming orchards, waving grain, and all the pleasant sights and mellow sounds of peace, the scared way-farers tarried for awhile to rest, and then to find a new kingdom and a home.
There is something very curious in the manner in which this creature took possession, first of Northern Kentucky; and then, some twenty years after, of the Southern part, or Green River country, as it is known. The North, beyond doubt, from its physical confomation, suited the habits and tastes of the fastidious monarch best; and besides, it was nearly fifty years after the settlement of the North, and not until the world had commenced to style it the Paradise of the West, that the Green River valley began to emerge from the semi-barbarous condition of a frontier, and to be considered by him as worthy of notice. Then he came more frequently, a fleeting scout "to spy out the land and the richness thereof."
I remember well, a very eccentric, good-natured, and garrulous old gentleman of my native town, a Mr. B.-, who was a good naturalist by the way, and loved birds dearly-telling me about a chase after the first mocking bird he ever saw in the Green River country. He was one of the earliest settlers of our town, and had known the bird well in Virginia, and had frequently seen it in the north of Kentucky. He often, during a residence of twelve or fifteen years, wondered why he had never seen it in the “ Barrens”—which was the old name the hunters had given to the Green River Valley.
Mr. B. was one day riding through these black oak Bar
rens* in a gig, with his wife, when he saw a bird which he instantly recognized as the mocking bird, fluttering along the road-side. His first surprise over, he soon perceived that it was a young one, and, as he delightedly supposed, not fully fledged. He was a very impulsive man, and without considering what might be the consequences, had his horse in a gallop in an instant, in the hope of running down and making a captive of the young stranger.
The startled wife pleaded with him to desist, but he was too intent to heed ; and when the bird made a considerable flight towards some gnarled and scrubbly black jacks near, she screamed most lustily, in her now well-grounded alarm, and begged and prayed to be permitted to get out, at least, as he wheeled his gig and dashed after it. The only answer she could get was
"Be still! Hush dear! I shall have him directly! It's a real mock"
Crash—went the unlucky gig, into the rough embrace of a Briaerus' armed black jack, which tore the gig top, his wife's bonnet, and his own straw hat, into shreds, besides pitching them both head foremost out, with the shock.
“Catch old Ball, wife!" sputtered B., as he scampered on. Then looking back over his shoulder for an instant, he shouted to her in consolation
“Don't you be afraid—I'll have that bird yet !" and was soon lost to her sight amidst the black jacks, that were fast stripping his clothes from him.
Old Ball, in the meantime, was showing a clean pair of heels down the road for home. The poor woman, in this melancholy plight, could only set herself to repairing damages as best she might, when in the course of fifteen minutes
* Barrens was the name originally given by the hunters to prairie land. What is now sometimes called the Barrens is composed of some of the richest land in the world—but the growth, except along the streams, is mostly primary and small, and stunted by the constant fires in the long grass.
or so, her madcap lord came panting back, rubbing his limbs with a most rueful countenance, while his tattered clothes hung like streamers about them. He looked at the wreck of the gig, without seeming to notice it, and with a heavy sigh exclaimed
“ O wife! wife! I should have had him—the most beauti. ful young mocking bird, but for that confounded sink-hole !!*
“But husband, see here. The gig's broken, and old Ball has run,"
“I had my hand 'most on him—not more than two inches; when I pitched head foremost down."
“Hang the bird! Do look what a fix we are in! How are we to get home ?”
“O dear! dear! If I could only have got that bird !" “Husband! husband !" and she shook him right heartily.
“What! Is the gig broken? Why, my child, how could you be so careless? Old Ball was always a safe and sober horse when I held the reins! Bless the woman! what could have got into you? That poor bird will never find its mother now !”
This rich scene was interrupted by the appearance of one of the neighboring farmers, passing down the road on horseback.
The wife summoned him to their assistance, and the scapegrace Ball, who had only gone off a short distance on a frolic —to which he thought himself, no doubt, as well entitled as his master-having been recaptured and brought back, the ready resources of the farmer, aided by withs and vines, soon repaired breakages in a protem. fashion, which enabled them to reach home—after dark—as the old lady always would have it. She used to avenge herself for her fright and torn bonnet by telling this story upon him with merciless humor
* The barrens are covered in many parts with these sudden pits, or “Sink Holes," as they are called. It is a lime-stone region, and they are caused by the fissures in that formation.