Volume IX 

Through the Cabin Window

Volume IX: January, 1942 — February, 1943

For the Duration, NATURE NOTES will come to you stripped for action. All unnecessary pages will be thrown overboard. Any formality or show which we may have had will be forgotten. The cover illustration will be placed inside with the article it illustrates. There will be fewer new illustrations than heretofore. Perhaps at some future time we may find it advisable to use another grade of paper, or to make other changes. We believe you’ll understand. Our motto is, “Business, but not as usual.”

No doubt we could somehow manage to pay the increased costs of paper, photographs, cuts, and man-power which we are facing. But we feel that we ought to use as little as possible of these things.

A chemical used to make paper gleaming white is necessary in the manufacture of munitions. The same can be said of certain chemicals used in the making of halftone illustrations. Halftones are made of copper which, as everyone knows, is one of the metals for which our great war machine hungers.

Then there is man-power. The company which prints this magazine has already given many of its artisans to the armed forces. Some will be making planes and tanks. We wish all of them Godspeed.

It is helpful to the Nation, I think, for publishers to reduce their demands for work and materials. It is patriotic for subscribers to accept these changes.

I would like to know what you think about the matter. Will you write to me soon?

My reasons for continuing the publication of NATURE NOTES are—

1) The magazine has found a niche among nature lovers and teachers of nature lore which no other publication will quite fit into.

2) I enjoy the contacts it affords with genuine lovers of nature throughout the Western Hemisphere.

3) It is good for the morale of all of us to read and write a few things not about war, especially things as fascinating as those found in NATURE NOTES.

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Like a breeze through a belfry thoughts drift through one’s brain and are gone—where?

I ought to carry with me day in and day out a portable recording outfit or some other means of nailing down thoughts before they disappear. Some of my best editorials are never written. They appear when I am seining for minnows, or focusing my camera, or climbing trees, or doing any of the thousand and one odd things a nature-lover does. If I can’t take time out from my task to jot them down  in my notebook, they soon vanish into thin air. The same combination of circumstances that suggested these thoughts will probably never occur again in the whole universe. They are lost to posterity—much to posterity’s profit.

Thoughts are the most volatile of volatile things. I would not call them “things” but for lack of a better word. They have no weight, no shape, no color, no substance. They are nothing. They are zero. They are not there at ail!

Yet, thoughts are the world’s great fiction, drama, music, pictures; they are electric refrigerators, automobiles, airplanes, statesmanship, happy living, hold-ups, editorials.

Won’t someone kindly think hard and invent a pocket thought recorder?


Legs, you say, is a topic which the editor of NATURE NOTES had best let strictly alone! Is that so? I have for years concerned myself with the fact that many, many human legs are not used for what they were intended. In case no one has bothered to teach you what they were made for, I will reveal the secret—it’s walking. My friends and relatives will sadly testify that have I harped on the subject. You can find things that I have sputtered about it in previous issues of this little publication.

In time of peace this presents a serious enough problem. In time of war its seriousness is greatly magnified.

Now, according to things I see in the papers, some Brig. Gens. are having the dickens of a time showing the doughboys how to walk. There’s one encouraging thing about it, though. Hiking is easy to learn and, if persisted in, will soon put you in splendid condition. I think legs will come back.


Last summer a woodchuck dug himself a den beneath a pile of old lumber near the Cabin. Late in the fall he began his long hibernation, and for all I know he’ s slumbering there below ground at the present moment.

But, during the winter the lumber has been removed. The entrance to his den is now fully exposed to the sky. How I wish I could be on hand to note the expression on his face when he wakes up, comes forth, and finds himself right out in the open!

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Afraid in the Woods

If there were beige dragons 90 ft. long with high-speed legs and insatiable appetites for human beings, then there might be some reason for being afraid in the woods. But to date, no such creature has been collected and nobody has come in with a convincing sight-record of one. Yet it’s a fact that many city people are actually in terror when they enter the forest primeval.

Of what are they afraid? They do not know, and of that their fear is compounded. They have vague dreads—holdovers from warnings given them in childhood—of poison plants, of lethal snakes, of scorpions, of hornets, of bloodsucking bats, of undefined shapes like beige dragons. I have seen grown people go into spasms of terror at the sudden hoot of a barred owl. It is the dread of the unknown that seems to block the mind’s ability to figure things out reasonably.

How can such people be shorn of their fears? Some cases are hard to cure, it is true. But get one young enough and wonders can be worked. The indicated treatment, of course, is to make the unknown known.

Take the patient to a museum and show him a stuffed owl. Acquaint him with the bird’s home life, its nest, its eggs, its youngsters and how it feeds them. The human being may feel shame at having been afraid of such a timid creature, but don’t rub that in. It’s 10 to 1 he will be listening for owls next time he’s out that way.

Or show him poison ivy flourishing in its native habitat. Tell him that it is sometimes like a shrub, but can change its ways and become a vine if it finds something upon which to climb. Make him familiar with its leaves. Pick a leaflet, holding it with the toughened ends of the fingers, just to prove it won’t jump up and bite him in the face. Then scrub your hands with soap as soon as possible to illustrate that simple precautions should be taken. Explain that poison ivy never affects some people; those who are susceptible may find it very unpleasant for a while, but they soon recover.

Don’t confine your teaching to dreaded things. Bring in a butterfly or a daisy now and then. Who knows? You may turn the patient into a famous naturalist!

Probably the hardest case with which to deal is the child whose mother takes him to a country place, adjusts herself at a bridge table, calls out sharply, “Junior, don’t go near the woods! Snakes will bite you,” then goes on with her bidding. You can’t very well persuade the kid to disobey and go into the woods, or that it’s not so—snakes won’t bite him. Nor is it quite fair to Junior to infer that his immediate ancestor doesn’t know a single thing about the snakes or the woods.

What then? Such cases will have to be dealt with by methods not too far outside the confines of your conscience.

I know of one such instance in which Junior, firmly grasping a live garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) which he had picked up outside the woods, came galloping to convince Mamma that it wouldn’t kill her. Tables were upset, tallies were lost, and a whole afternoon of bridge went practically for naught.

How fared Junior? Was he punished? He couldn’t well be spanked because that would have meant spanking the husband of the hostess—he had another one by the tail.

Let’s Get This Straight

One good thing about these curtailed weather reports: I am less often irked by the looseness with which the terms zero and freezing are used in newspapers, on the radio, in magazines. A radio announcer was trying to tell an expectant public how cold it was. He said, with dramatic intonations, that it was twenty-two below freezing and hadn’t been that since eighteen eighty something. About one tenth of one percentum of his listeners knew better.

On a terribly hot day in August a local paper came out with nice cool pictures of the inside of an ice house, showing calm cakes of ice sitting around. But the captions made us hotter by announcing that it was five degrees below zero in there.

And so it goes. Thirty-two degrees off! That’s a high degree of inaccuracy. As a matter of fact, the commonly used temperature scale was, wisely or not, devised by a Mr. Fahrenheit. That’s the scale that hangs out on the porch where father can look at it often. On this scale 212 degrees is the boiling point of water, 32 degrees is freezing and zero is—pretty cold!

Thirteen Bob-whites

A baker’s dozen of Bob-whites have befriended me this winter. In return I have been throwing cracked corn on the ground just outside the Cabin Window.

Once a day they come, usually running, but sometimes sailing; always in a hurry, apparently fearful that a gun will bark nearby. How wild and beautiful they are! I could no more pull a trigger, on them than I could whirr my wings and fly away.

The males have clear white throats, more white above the eyes, set off by bands of black. The females and the immature have no such clear-cut head markings.

They see me through the Window, At first they were gone at the slightest movement of my hand. Now they merely look up, then go on eating. We’re friends!

They eat like chickens, scratching in the snow, and giving their heads and necks little sideward jerks to cram the corn down in their crops and make room for a few more pieces. But the tempo of a bob-white’s living is faster, far, than any domesticated fowl. “Quick, a hawk may swoop, a cat may spring—hurry, let’s go.”

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Note: Despite the brave tone in the first part of this Volume, World War II made it impossible to continue publication, and Nature Notes ended its publication run February, 1943. HPH

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