Volume III 

Through the Cabin Window

Volume III: January—June, 1937

Reports reaching the Cabin seem to indicate that in many places birds last autumn feasted on cultivated grapes more than is usually the case. Certain it is that a good share of our own grapes went to satisfy the hunger of cardinals, robins, white-throated sparrows, bluebirds and many others.

This is, however, not a loss. It is a gain. The drought caused failure of many crops of wild fruits and berries on which birds naturally feed. So they had to turn to grape arbors for sustenance. Our place was swarming with birds, as long as the grapes lasted. Who knows how many bird lives were saved in this emergency by our scraggly bunches of grapes? Who knows how many insects that harm our growing things will be eaten by these same birds next year? If all the facts could be accurately set down, we are certain that the balance would be found on the profit side of the ledger.

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Good News:

A warm and sunny December in this part of the country has been easy on the coal pile, and has kept many blades of grass green right up to the first of the year. Following duck hunting season, ducks have been seen by the thousands along the Illinois River. It would appear that they were not entirely exterminated by the sportsmen who came from near and far to shoot at them. We would not suggest that any of these hunters missed, but perhaps many of them are indeed sportsmen and did not exceed the bag limits. As a check on the other kind of hunter, game wardens have been unusually active and numerous.

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A warm and sociable friend is the “Morning Star.” It stands in the middle of the Cabin room where I write. It is connected with the chimney flue by means of a long, black pipe with an elbow in the middle. Whenever I put a log of wood or a handful of corncobs in it and open the little sliding draft in the front there are creaking noises which mean that its iron ribs are expanding, or contracting, I can’t decide which. Again it creaks when the round stove lid on top is removed; in fact it often just creaks with no apparent reason. That’s why I say it’s a sociable friend.

This little stove was given to me by my Mother to whom it had descended. It is gothic-shape, with well rounded sides, like a plump old pony. On its front door is its name “Morning Star,” above a coat-of-arms in bas relief. Other legends inform the curious that it is the inspired work of Wm. Resor & Co., done at Cincinnati, in 1871.

I’m bound to say that, antique or no antique, this stove is a dandy. Come out to the Cabin of a winter’ s morn when there are icicles hanging all around the edges of the roof, when the wind off the prairie bites your cheek, wad in some paper, throw in some kindling, and before you can say chickadee, it has the room up to eighty. I doubt if there’s a stove built today that gets more heat out of a piece of wood.

The flat, removable lid on top of a saddle-like piece of iron is perhaps one of Mr. Resor’s happiest touches. In the first place, it solves the cuspidor problem very nicely and George, the handy man, is acquainted with all its possibilities. He never fails to use it when he comes inside and I sometimes think he comes in for that express purpose.

In the second place you can fry an egg and boil a pot of coffee on this lid in case there’s a special luncheon or something going on up at the house and you don’t want to appear in your long editorial hair.

I understand that my Grandmother used to hop out of bed in the dead of a Dakota winter and warm her fleecy unmentionables by this stove. Just think, and now it’s helping me write editorials!

Fashion Note:

In attempts to regain their youthful figures some people starve themselves (with time out at the confectioner’s), some make feeble efforts to follow radio exercises, and some take hikes. These last get much of nature’s curative—oxygen; they are spiritually uplifted; and they come back happy over the new things seen, new acquaintances made.

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Sitting in a college lecture room recently I saw several reels of “sound movies” explaining various phenomena of nature. One reel, for instance, showed the actual growth of plant roots with the action speeded up so that we could actually see the roots’ tips feeling their way through the soil. Another reel depicted within the space of a few minutes the advance and retreat of the great ice sheets that covered North America many thousands of years ago.

I could not help thinking how many aids to learning there are these days. One could study volume after volume and not get as clear and comprehensive an idea of the ice age as one can by seeing a carefully prepared movie—diagram such as the one I viewed. And, somehow, these reels were intensely interesting. The audience was fascinated. It stands to reason that such teaching aids as these will help to turn out students whose interest in nature has been sharpened, instead of killed by a lot of dry data which has to be learned from text books.

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I am a great believer in hiking for what ails you. That is, of course, if you can possibly drag one foot ahead of another. And if you can’t do that, you can take vicarious hikes by reading NATURE NOTES!

You will notice that we are running articles designed to encourage you to get out in the open where the air is fresh and the unalterated sunlight can get at you. This month we suggest some things to look for in early spring. Next month we shall try further to stimulate your interest and get you out doors. Soon we’ll have an article on what happens inside you when you hike. Hiking, you know, is not only good for you physically, but mentally as well.

Yes, hiking is conducive to thinking. It also gives you a better perspective on things. I know a business man who never fails to take a hike when he has an important decision to make. His hulk is moulded to fit in a capacious swivel chair but he grits his teeth and goes out in the woods and sits on a stump, which is his way of hiking. He tells me that he comes back “refreshed, revivified, and reduced.” I think by reduced he means that his sense of importance has been taken down a peg. All of which is black ink on his ledger.

Why don’t you take more hikes this spring?

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At this writing the stock market is poised half-way between a boom and a wreck. Spaniard is still killing Spaniard, the highway toll is increasing as usual, newspapers carry more bad news than good; but, meadowlarks are whistling from fence posts, cottony clouds are floating serenely in a turquoise sky, and hepaticas are blooming on my hillside!

Nature goes on from year to year, from century to century and from aeon to aeon in very much the same way, regardless of the feverish pursuits of men.

It used to be the fashion in some quarters to laugh at such things as birds and flowers. They were too sweet and old fashioned, or something, for a practical world. But the “practical world” is getting itself into such a mess that it’s beginning to feel a bit chagrined over itself and to wonder if, after all, the birds and flowers don’t know more about the art of existence than do human beings.

General John J. Pershing, hard-boiled veteran of several campaigns, stood listening to the song of a red bird, so a newspaper report stated the other day. Newspapermen asked if he had something to say about the entrance of the United States into the World War twenty years ago.

“Hush gentlemen,” said Pershing, “the song of that red bird is more important to me than recollections of war.”

Shortened hours for work, development of highways, and unemployment have been some of the things that have given rise to a demand for more and more national parks. The Chief Forester of the National Park Service reports that in 1929 the number of visitors to our parks and monuments was 3,248,264. In 1936 the number of visitors was recorded as 9,929,432. That is an increase of 205 percent in seven years!

The above items, gleaned from the daily press, seem to support my argument that we are turning to nature. At any rate, it won’t hurt you a bit to regard the birds and flowers this spring. Find out what they are, and how they live. Go out into quiet places in search of them. Then you’ll have one foot on solid ground, even if the other foot is trying to run on a whirling, endless belt.

John Burroughs, born one hundred years ago this month, lived to a ripe old age in a troubled world. And this was his philosophy:

I am in love with this world...It has been home. It has been my point of outlook upon the universe. I have not bruised myself against it, nor tried to use it ignobly. I have tilled its soil, I have gathered its harvests, I have waited upon its seasons and always have I reaped what I have sown. While I delved I did not lose sight of the sky overhead. While I gathered its bread and meat for my body I did not neglect to gather its bread and meat for my soul. I have climbed its mountains, roamed its forests, sailed its waters, crossed its deserts, felt the sting of its frosts, the oppression of its heats, the drench of its rains, the fury of its winds, and always have beauty and joy waited upon my goings and comings.

The nature fakir is abroad in the land. With the growth in the public’s interest in nature, with more magazines printing articles on nature than previously, it is perhaps to be expected that some writers will turn out stories about birds or animals that seem to deviate from the truth.

Not so long ago I picked up a little magazine, one of the numerous “Digests” that are for sale on the newsstands, The magazine was called “The Fact Digest.” One of the articles was headed “Unbelievable but Verified.” It reviewed an article said to be by a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. He told the following story in substance:

A pair of English sparrows and one of their young somehow became interested in the Lieutenant Commander and his family. That was in Kansas City. The family took a trip to New York City. The sparrows followed all the way, keeping pace. The birds followed the people back again to Kansas City.

One day at 5:30 P.M. the Lieutenant Commander and his family boarded a train for San Francisco, They entered a car and drew the shades, supposing that the birds would remain for a while at the station and then return to their neighborhood. At Cheyenne, Wyoming, the naval officer thought he heard the voice of one of these sparrows, but cast it aside as impossible. “It was not until we were descending the Rockies that I looked back and saw the three Beeps in close formation taking a short cut across one of the curves following the train. Apparently they flew over the train in the daytime, all the while raiding for food. At night I believe they boarded the train, riding on the roof directly over our compartment. But of this I am not sure...

A little later, the Lieutenant Commander and his family boarded a boat for Honolulu. The sparrows escorted them to the Golden Gate, and apparently turned back when they saw the big ocean ahead. But to climax the whole affair the birds later turned up in Shanghai to greet their human friends.

“Naturally,” the Lieutenant Commander is quoted as saying, “I am very sentimental about these birds, but observations have been kept scientific. The birds really belong to my wife who maintains their interest is due to the fact that she talks to them rather than to her feeding them.”

Does the navy man’s story contain a shred of truth? Certainly it makes interesting reading for the public. But I can’t swallow it. Ask any trained ornithologist what he thinks of it. My wager is that he will become wracked with pain as I was when I read it.

Here at NATURE NOTES headquarters we have to be constantly on guard against articles of this kind. Our constant endeavor is to give you material that is truthful as well as interesting. There are so many fascinating things in nature that are true, that it’s not necessary to invent impossible tales to add readability to our pages.

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There is a certain satisfaction in having helped, in some small way, to maintain the world’s supply of beauty.

Last April a pair of bluebirds made up their minds about furnishing an apartment. It was for rent to be paid in flashes of blue and sharp-eyed vigilance in the matter of caterpillars. This apartment had been placed, purposely, where it could be seen from my desk in the Cabin.

The finest of grasses went in through the door to be used for the bulk of the nest, with even finer material for a lining. The male stood for minutes at a time with his head and neck inside while his movements suggested that he was critically inspecting the work and offering advice on the weaving of the snuggery. (What male wouldn’t grasp such an opportunity to be helpful?)

On the 22nd day of April it appeared to me—though of this I can’t be certain because I was careful to respect the premises—that the female had begun to incubate her eggs. She was jittery, as becomes a lady of the 1930’s. Many of the usual noises of the neighborhood made her come to the door and look out. One of those terribly nerve-destroying automobile horns that some manufacturers have thought necessary to put on cars of late, kept my bluebird on pins and needles, as some imperious young man’s fancies turned to love a quarter mile or so down the road.

Even the wind, swirling about her home post, was enough to bring her to the door, and my sneezes due to a spring cold, caused her great alarm. I am certain that for the first day or two those eggs received precious little incubation.

But as the days went by she gradually became accustomed to things outside her home. The male, cooing reassuringly, would appear from time to time with a caterpillar for her, and at last she was so secure of her safety that she scarcely peeked out at all. More than once I feared she had left for good.

On the 9th of May great activity indicated that the Event had taken place. It is entirely possible that the 8th or the 7th had seen the Event, but I was not here and thus was deprived of knowing the exact date. Suffice it that both parents were out diligently scouting for insects of the proper size to feed to nestlings.

One sunny day I decided to make an attempt at photographing the parents. Remembering the state of the mother’ s nerves, I set up my camera some fifty feet from the nest box, hoping to enlarge the resulting photograph to a reasonable size. Tying a thread to the shutter release, I remained inside the Cabin.

Scarcely a minute had passed before the female was feeding the young. She paid not the slightest attention to the camera.

Thus inspired, I moved the camera up to thirty feet. The male perched on a post close to it as if curious to know more about the object with the glittering eye. So I moved my apparatus to a point nineteen feet from the nest and from there without any trouble at all, made several bluebird portraits. Even the sharp click, as the shutter machinery was released, did not alarm the birds.

On May 18th the last youngster, viewing the world through the apartment’ s round doorway, decided to launch himself into that world where his parents found so many fine caterpillars. Today we have seven bluebirds about the place swooping, now and then, to the lawn to capture unfortunate insects.

The parents, I know, are considering fixing up the nest and raising another brood. Shall we some day have twelve?

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