Volume I 

Through the Cabin Window

Volume I: January—June, 1936

Born of a genuine love of nature, NATURE NOTES, The Magazine of Outdoor Information, makes its bow.

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This magazine intends to fight for effective conservation. The first step, obviously, is to bring to the attention of people the wonders and beauties of the world in which they live. This should be done not so much through nature study, as through nature as a hobby.

Here is a nature magazine that is edited out in the country—not next door to nature—but right in the middle of one of nature’s gardens! From where I sit I could easily toss a stone to a clump of yellow lady’s slippers that are slumbering under the snow on a woodsy hillside. And those lady slippers weren’t put there by man, they are the wild kind and they must have been planted by the birds or the wind.

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I never knew ’til this minute that juncos outranked titmice. I have been gazing through the Cabin Window, watching the winter birds as they vie with one another for the pork fat I’ve placed out there. It’s perfectly obvious that there are ranks in birdland as everywhere else. The chickadees give precedence to the downies, the downies to the energetic nuthatches, the nuthatches to the titmice, and all make way for those big boys in blue, the jays. Then, there are ranking personages among the blue jays themselves! It’s all settled and very well defined. For some reason a little junco has lately developed an appetite for pork fat. He flew up over the edge of the feeding shelf just now and all the titmice scrammed.

It is tremendously interesting to feed the birds and watch their doings. This seems to be one of those old fashioned winters that our grandmothers declared were a special product of the ’60’s. The birds are very cold and very hungry. Are YOU doing something to help them?

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The other day I had occasion to look between the covers of a recent book on psychology. The author makes many weighty and high-sounding observations. But, come right down to it, many of the things he says are things that everybody who would read such a book already knows.

Here, for instance, is a summary of one section: The happy man has some strong Central Sentiment around which his life revolves. It may be business, children, or something else. If a man’s Central Sentiment is taken away, he is lost—he is like a ship without a rudder, liable to be wrecked on the nearest rock, unless he has in reserve some other sentiment which can become the central one.

Now, if I were going to state this in another way, I’d say, “Everyone should have a hobby.”

At any rate, we who have nature, either as a Central Sentiment or as a hobby, are fortunate. For who can take nature away from us? We may lose every cent we possess; but expensive equipment is not necessary for the enjoyment of nature. All we need do is open our eyes.

Indeed, suppose even our eyes fail us. There remain the songs of birds, the odors of blossoms, the tangy taste of outdoor things, and the soft, caressing winds of spring.

I repeat, we are fortunate.

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The ice is going out of the river. Just outside the Cabin Window bluebirds are calling. I heard the plaintive notes of a killdeer as he sailed over the orchard. Certain early plants are taking advantage of every minute of sunshine to force themselves into growth. All this means that though we may wake up some morning to find upon the land the face of winter, the heart of spring will be underneath.

Why don’t you get outside this spring and enjoy nature? Soak up the health-giving sunlight. Make it a point to learn more about the birds you will hear, the trees you will see and the blossoms you will enjoy. What’s your hurry anyway? The more you rush through life, the sooner it will be over with. Stop  a minute to look at nature. You’ll find some interesting things.

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Your editor loves to walk. He has two fine large feet, which, given time, will take him almost anywhere. Walking is exhilarating exercise, It brings oxygen into the body, it obtains for the walker the beneficial effects of sunlight or strong daylight. The elimination of poisons and by-products of life is promoted. Walking does in a gentle, unspectacular way everything that athletics will do for you. And the delicious weariness at the end of a long hike is conducive to deep and refreshing slumber.

I do not see anything “queer” in preferring this form of exercise. It strikes me as a perfectly rational procedure, for a person to walk if he wants to. But how hard it is to walk in this day and age!

Not long ago I wanted to see a friend who lives about a mile along the concrete highway from the Cabin. I decided to walk and see what birds could be seen along the way.

Even as I passed through my front gate there was a screeching of brakes and a generous motorist stopped to offer me a lift. My polite refusal caused a look of wonderment to come into his eyes.

I was just getting warmed up and was thinking how pleasant it was to be out in the spring sunshine when an acquaintance of mine who lives in constant fear of being snubbed, overtook me. Here was his chance to do a charitable thing. His car door was open for me even before the big car itself came to a halt. For a moment I wavered. Now there would be complications if I didn’t get in and ride! Just then a meadowlark—the first one of the season—burst into honest song from the top of a fencepost. I tried to explain to my acquaintance my need for exercise as a sort of spring tonic and how I had decided that a little walk would be just the thing for me. It all sounded, of course, like a pretty thin excuse.

“You don’t look sick,” he remarked, and his car started ahead with an eloquent jerk.

My friend, when I arrived at his home, was mightily concerned about my plight. To have to walk a mile! Why, a phone call and he’d have been right over after me, if my car were not available. He’d see that I got home all right. It would save me lots of time.

“Save me time for what?” I asked..

“Why er—, isn’t there something you want to do when you get back?”

“I suppose there is,” I admitted. “When I get home, I’m going for a little walk.”

Of course, I should rejoice that the spirit of helpfulness still exists in the world, no matter from what source it springs. But I can’t help feeling sorry that walking has fallen into such bad repute. A nation of walkers is a nation of nature lovers.

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Ye editor sits at his desk, wondering what to say to the gentle readers of this publication. He gazes out through the Window to where bittersweet vines festoon white oak trees; to where chipmunks frolic and nuthatches scold. It’s his own fault, if what he says has not the flavor of nature.

A young friend asks, “When you are trying to identify a bird near a paved road on a Sunday afternoon, doesn’t it make you a bit embarrassed to have automobile loads of people gawk at you with open mouths, as if you yourself were some queer specimen?”

In my younger days this used to bother me immensely. But I now have reached the age when I don’t care. Then too, a few years back there were not  nearly so many people chasing birds as there are today, and one of them was no doubt a legitimate object of gawkage. I used to try to conceal my field glasses and look nonchalant when strangers approached, but I probably merely succeeded in appearing furtive. Now, I am proud to belong to that advanced group of people who appreciate the wonders of nature.

A valued subscriber whom we wouldn’t offend for the world, since we need every one we have and then some, writes, “In your April editorial you state that a nation of walkers is a nation of nature lovers. Cannot riders, be nature lovers, too?”

Yes, riders can be nature lovers, but are they? Riding—even at fifteen miles per hour—precludes intimate acquaintanceship with nature. And how can there be true love without intimacy?

The above paragraph will demonstrate clearly that no automobile manufacturer has as yet subsidized this magazine.

In a recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens one sees the following:

It’s no longer necessary to rob the woods and fields and to break laws to have a wildflower garden, for the nurseries have ‘gone native.’ They now cultivate just the wildflowers you’ll want for every spot.

Sometimes it seems that the whole world is motivated by the desire to break laws and get away with it. Perhaps there are still a few folks who try to observe laws simply because they are laws, but such people are rather hard to find. At any rate, for these few it will be a matter of gratification to learn that it is no longer necessary to rob the woods; to break laws.

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Little things that cheer me up: The June sunshine slanting down through the apple trees. Baltimore orioles building a nest somewhere in the elms. A crow, flapping erratically across the hollow, seeing me and veering off to one side. Headed bluegrass nodding in graceful undulations before an east wind. Clumps of  yarrow along the roadside. Sawed wood ticked up and seasoning for next winter’s fires.

The other evening (last May 19th) there was a fluttering at the window and we saw a luna moth, one of the most beautiful of all creatures, beating itself against the screen. In the beam of a powerful electric torch, it was content to remain motionless while we enjoyed its delicate beauty. That such a creature could exist is marvel enough. That it should come to our window is almost too good to be true. But there it was: How exquisite were its broad yellow-green wings, the hindmost pair drawn out into long fragile streamers, the others edged along the front with royal purple. The plump body was snowy white, the legs were a rich chestnut color and the fern-like antennae were spread as if to catch the faint radio waves that might tell of a mate near-by.

It is an event, this seeing a luna, that we look forward to each year. For on an average of once every twelve months in this part of the country we are permitted a glimpse of one of these living, throbbing, Moths of the Moon.

As we go to press the adult seventeen year cicada is beginning to make its appearance. Soon the forests will be ringing with the songs of this remarkable insect. If you find a fearsome looking (but harness) creature with cellophane wings and veinings near the wing tips in the shape of a W, you will have found a seventeen year cicada, erroneously called locust.

In the form of a white “grub” this cicada remains in the ground for seventeen dark years. Then, as if a message had been passed along that the time was up, all the grubs come out of the ground within the space of a few weeks and change into adults. A month or two of glorious life in the sunshine, the females lay their eggs under the bark of twigs, and life ends for the cicadas.

The only harm done by these insects is the piercing of the twigs of trees during this process of egg laying. Many of the twigs break and hang all summer with withered leaves. This may reduce the yield of fruit trees, but large forest and shade trees seem to suffer no permanent injury from the swarms.

The present swarm of these cicadas will not surround the Cabin, but will be found within fifty miles of it. The range includes an irregular area in the eastern part of the United States, south of the Great Lakes and north of central Georgia, extending westward only to eastern and southern Illinois.

A separate and distinct swarm covers territory farther west, and when this comes out, we at the Cabin will be able to study these long-lived insects. This latter swarm came out of the ground in 1905 and 1922 and will be due again three years hence.

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