Volume IV 

Through the Cabin Window

Volume IV: July—December, 1937

If you have ever seen a big man heroically killing a garter snake and carrying it at arm’s length draped over a five-foot pole while women and children fluttered into the background, perhaps you have gained the idea that mankind’s fear of serpents is ingrained and can never be overcome. Mother Eve, you say, was betrayed by a serpent, therefore man always will dread crawling things.

I am inclined to think, however, that this fear is due, not so much to instinct, as it is to lack of knowledge on the subject. Naturally you don’t want to be on intimate terms with anything until you know it is perfectly harmless.

Of recent years, perhaps largely due to the interesting writings of Dr. Raymond L. Ditmars, more and more people have begun to take an interest in snakes. More magazine articles—one of which will be found in this issue of NATURE NOTES—are being published on the subject. More snake books are being written—the latest of which is reviewed elsewhere in this issue. And it is a good thing this is so. For the public’s knowledge of snakes should be widened. Not so many helpful species will then be sacrificed to unreasoning fear.

Even if you live in the world’s largest city, you should at least have a smattering of snake lore. Recently a frantic call was received at a police station in Greater New York. “A snake is loose in my garage,” screamed a voice. The police radio swung into action. Three squad cars rushed to the place. Six police officers surrounded and killed an eight-inch garter snake!

A fourteen-year-old boy was bitten by a snake in New Jersey. His companion killed the snake and ran to a near-by highway where he fortunately met a patrolman. In a mad race against death the frightened victim was rushed through busy New York City to the Zoological Park where snake serum is on hand. “What kind of a snake was it?” asked the head keeper. The mangled remains were fetched from the police car. “That,” said the head keeper with a grin, “is a milk snake. It’s about as harmless as milk, too.”

Learn a little about the snakes of your region. Respect the bad ones, if there are any, but what’s the use of mashing the head of every vertebrate without hips?

Dr. Ditmars, who for thirty-seven years has been curator of mammals and reptiles at the New York Zoological Park, is conducting experiments in cooperation with medical men to determine the value of snake venom as a medicine.

Venom from the moccasin snakes (copperheads and water moccasins) is used in developing a serum that is said to have shown beneficial results in the war against epilepsy, hemophilia and malignant growths.

The day may come when we will look upon even the dreaded copperhead as a friend to man! So, let’s not judge anything too harshly. Maybe science will even find a good use for the pestiferous mosquito.

* * * * *

“So it’s moths, now,” said Mrs. Editor with a look in her eye. “Yes,” I  admitted weakly, “it’s moths. They’ve got me.”

About every two or three years, ye Editor rediscovers some new and marvelous department of nature. It is as if he were going down the dim corridor of life, ever and anon coming to a bright and shining room, a crystal palace, where vistas new to him open up view beyond view. They surpass anything he has ever dreamed of in his sweetest slumber.

What is most wonderful, these are not forbidden rooms. They may be entered and freely explored and in each one he finds contentment. The price of admission is not exorbitant: a few cents for insect pins, a dollar or two for guide books. A good lens and a few other tools he has carried from room to room and they still serve him well .

There are congenial friends, too, in each room, people who are making the same wonderful “Discoveries.” And the memories of those other rooms we have visited remain always fresh and green.

Over the door of one room—that was some distance back—was lettered “Native Birds”; over another “Ferns,” and so on. Now ye Editor has disappeared into the marvelous place labeled “Moths.”

Already he has a tidy little collection. Every night now for some time he has placed a bright light in the Window that overlooks the woods. This brings swarms of moths of all sizes to the screen. He doesn’t have any qualms about clapping a few of the dainty creatures into a cyanide jar, because many of them are pests anyway. His grape leaf skeletonizer was somewhat torn in spreading and now he’s looking for another. But his Cecropias are in perfect shape. Some of the micro-moths, he found, were mighty hard to put on the spreading board, but his fingers are now becoming a little more expert. He has a beautiful specimen of the hummingbird moth with rich greens and deep reds and clear cellophane windows in its wings. (This was collected over the larkspurs in daylight.) His Noctuids have by no means all been identified, but that can be done on winter evenings.

Not yet has he collected a royal walnut moth, but when that day comes—oh, boy!

“So it’s moths now,” said Mrs. Editor and she settled down to read by herself.

“Yes,” I admitted, a little sheepishly, “it’s moths. There’s something about them. They’ve got me.”

* * * * *

A reader in California writes, “I was interested in seeing that a nature magazine is being published in Peoria. I was born in Farmington, Illinois, and remember going to Peoria two or three times while I was a small child. No one would have thought then that it would ever be the scene of a literary effort.”

To which we reply, “What literary effort?”

The good old cottonwood has been selected as the official state tree of Kansas. This rapid growing friend of the pioneer holds an honored place in the heart of many a midwestern youth. I remember how, in years gone by, we used to hear the warbling vireos talking to themselves as they examined the cottonwood blossoms in May. A little later, the streets and walks would be almost covered by drifts of cottony fibers. One gigantic cottonwood was always used as “base” for our games of tag, and respected was the youth who dared climb it to a certain dizzy height where a pair of screech owls always had their nest. Scorned is the cottonwood tree by some, but not by many a country lad, and not now by Kansas.

* * * * *

Sooner or later every hiker finds a fence staring him in the face. The problem, then, is whether to cross over, go around, or turn back. Since our motives are pure, since few of us carry guns, and since we may even have the permission of the landowner, many times the decision is, “Cross the line.”

In general, the act of crossing a fence, is not a dignified one. How fortunate that there are few fences on Michigan Avenue! Usually our fellow hikers are the sole witnesses to our humiliation and they must do the same thing.

There are many kinds of fences. Each calls for a different technique. There are species and subspecies, one might say. When you have mastered a tightly strung barbed wire fence, for instance, that gives you no special knowledge of how to get through a loose one, where every wire swoops down and enwraps its victim like an octopus.

Keep trying until you have mastered each and every kind. Not until you can cross a fence in a half-way efficient manner are you entitled to be a leader and take groups of people afield. You can get away with telling them that a mourning dove is a great auk, but if you can’t do better at the fences than they can, you lose their respect.

A word of caution which I hope is unnecessary. I have helped make fence in the heat of the summer and I know how hard it is to put up a good one. Be always careful in crossing not to damage the fence in any way. Climb a stout post where the wire is less likely to be bent out of shape. We have all seen fences that have been ruthlessly damaged by hunters or others who have gone that way. Be a fence conservationist. Be as careful of the other man’ s property as though it were your own; it represents hard work and an outlay of cash.

* * * * *

Donald Culross Peattie, nature writer extraordinary, author of “Green Laurels,” “An Almanac for Moderns,” etc., has delighted many a reader of the Chicago Daily News with his little corner called “A Breath of Outdoors.”

Upon several occasions, when Mr. Peattie mentioned NATURE NOTES in a friendly manner we received stacks of letters—some from as far away as Wichita—enclosing clippings from his column. Many asked to see copies of our magazine and subsequently came to be numbered among our valued subscribers.

And now we look through the Daily News in vain. For with the issue of October 16th the editors saw fit to discontinue the nature articles, in the belief, I suppose, that a bustling metropolitan population has no use for such. In this they are mistaken. Those who work in the city’s grime are the hungriest for a breath of the outdoors—the clean sunbathed outdoors where the trees are tall and straight, because the gases of blast furnaces do not reach them; where the wild birds call; the cow bells tinkle; the sands heap themselves before the wind in gentle undulations. (Many city folks, I’ll grant you, are not aware that this is what they hunger for.)

I entreat you now, wherever you are, sit down and write a telegram—a letter—a card—anything to Hal O’Flaherty, Managing Editor of the Chicago Daily News. Tell him in no uncertain terms that he must resume Mr. Peattie’s articles. Do this for the cause of nature.

Editors are like congressmen only in that they love to hear from their constituents. It shows them which way the wind is blowing. Let’s hope a tornado blows off the prairie so that A Breath of Outdoors may resume.

* * * * *

If you will look at a map of the United States showing our national parks and forests you will note that most of these areas are located in mountainous regions or in regions where nature has already provided abundant recreational land.

In many cases such land could never be used for anything else. In general what are known as agricultural states are left out of the picture. The Middle West has extremely few national parks, but the so-called mountainous or forest states to the east and the west are full of them.

Is it not time to think of a more even distribution of our parks? We don’t have trailers, and even if we did many of us cannot spare the time it takes to travel to a national recreational area.

Of course it is much easier to make a park in land which nobody wants. But it is not at all impossible to do so in other places. Even in some of the best agricultural states there are millions of acres of marginal land, much of it hewn from the forest and ready to be reclaimed by the trees as soon as man shall have moved to better parts. The fact that these marginal lands are in or near river valleys adds to their value as park lands.

Since everyone cannot go to the national parks, let us bring the national parks to the people.

* * * * ***

On to Volume V
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