Glimpses Of Wild Life





So fond am I of seeing Nature reassert herself that I even found some

compensation in the loss of my chickens that bright November night when

some wild creature, coon or fox, swept two of them out of the

evergreens, and their squawking as they were hurried across the lawn

called me from my bed to shout good-by after them. It gave a new

interest to the hen-roost, this sudden incursion of wild nature. I feel

bound to caution the boys about disturbing the wild rabbits that in

summer breed in my currant-patch, and in autumn seek refuge under my

study floor. The occasional glimpses I get of them about the lawn in the

dusk, their cotton tails twinkling in the dimness, afford me a genuine

pleasure. I have seen the time when I would go a good way to shoot a

partridge; but I would not have killed, if I could, the one that started

out of the vines that cover my rustic porch, as I approached that side

of the house one autumn morning. How much of the woods, and of the

untamable spirit of wild nature, she brought to my very door! It was

tonic and exhilarating to see her whirl away toward the vineyard. I also

owe a moment's pleasure to the gray squirrel that, finding my

summer-house in the line of his travels one summer day, ran through it

and almost over my feet as I sat idling with a book.



I am sure my power of digestion was improved that cold winter morning

when, just as we were sitting down to breakfast about sunrise, a red fox

loped along in front of the window, looking neither to the right nor to

the left, and disappeared amid the currant-bushes. What of the wild and

the cunning did he not bring! His graceful form and motion were in my

mind's eye all day. When you have seen a fox loping along in that way,

you have seen the poetry there is in the canine tribe. It is to the eye

what a flowing measure is to the mind, so easy, so buoyant; the furry

creature drifting along like a large red thistledown, or like a plume

borne by the wind. It is something to remember with pleasure, that a

muskrat sought my door one December night when a cold wave was swooping

down upon us. Was he seeking shelter, or had he lost his reckoning? The

dogs cornered him in the very doorway, and set up a great hubbub. In the

darkness, thinking it was a cat, I put my hand down to feel it. The

creature skipped to the other corner of the doorway, hitting my hand

with its cold, rope-like tail. Lighting a match, I had a glimpse of him

sitting up on his haunches like a woodchuck, confronting his enemies. I

rushed in for the lantern, with the hope of capturing him alive, but

before I returned, the dogs, growing bold, had finished him.



I have had but one call from a coon, that I am aware of, and I fear we

did not treat him with due hospitality. He took up his quarters for the

day in a Norway spruce, the branches of which nearly brushed the house.

I had noticed that the dog was very curious about that tree all the

afternoon. After dinner his curiosity culminated in repeated loud and

confident barking. Then I began an investigation, expecting to find a

strange cat, or at most a red squirrel. But a moment's scrutiny revealed

his coonship. Then how to capture him became the problem. A long pole

was procured, and I sought to dislodge him from his hold. The skill with

which he maintained himself amid the branches excited our admiration.

But after a time he dropped lightly to the ground, not in the least

disconcerted, and at once on his guard against both man and beast. The

dog was a coward, and dared not face him. When the coon's attention was

diverted, the dog would rush in; then one of us would attempt to seize

the coon's tail, but he faced about so quickly, his black eyes gleaming,

that the hand was timid about seizing him. But finally in his

skirmishing with the dog I caught him by the tail, and bore him safely

to an open flour-barrel, and he was our prisoner.



Much amusement my little boy and I anticipated with him. He partook of

food that same day, and on the second day would eat the chestnuts in our

presence. Never did he show the slightest fear of us or of anything, but

he was unwearied in his efforts to regain his freedom. After a few days

we put a strap upon his neck and kept him tethered by a chain. But in

the night, by dint of some hocus-pocus, he got the chain unsnapped and

made off, and he is now, I trust, a patriarch of his tribe, wearing a

leather necktie.



The skunk visits every farm sooner or later. One night I came near

shaking hands with one on my very door-stone. I thought it was the cat,

and put down my hand to stroke it, when the creature, probably

appreciating my mistake, moved off up the bank, revealing to me the

white stripe on its body and the kind of cat I had saluted. The skunk is

not easily ruffled, and seems to employ excellent judgment in the use of

its terrible weapon.



Several times I have had calls from woodchucks. One looked in at the

open door of my study one day, and, after sniffing a while, and not

liking the smell of such clover as I was compelled to nibble there,

moved on to better pastures. Another one invaded the kitchen door while

we were at dinner. The dogs promptly challenged him, and there was a

lively scrimmage upon the door-stone. I thought the dogs were fighting,

and rushed to part them. The incident broke in upon the drowsy summer

noon, as did the appearance of the muskrat upon the frigid December

night.



The woodchuck episode that afforded us the most amusement occurred one

midsummer. We were at work in a newly-planted vineyard, when the man

with the cultivator saw, a few yards in front of him, some large gray

object that at first puzzled him. He approached it, and found it to be

an old woodchuck with a young one in her mouth. She was carrying her

kitten as does a cat, by the nape of the neck. Evidently she was moving

her family to pastures new. As the man was in the line of her march, she

stopped and considered what was to be done. He called to me, and I

approached slowly. As the mother saw me closing in on her flank, she was

suddenly seized with a panic, and, dropping her young, she fled

precipitately for the cover of a large pile of grape-posts some ten or

twelve rods distant. We pursued hotly, and overhauled her as she was

within one jump of the house of refuge. Taking her by the tail, I

carried her back to her baby; but she heeded it not. It was only her own

bacon now that she was solicitous about. The young one remained where he

had been dropped, keeping up a brave, reassuring whistle that was in

ludicrous contrast to his exposed and helpless condition. He was the

smallest woodchuck I had ever seen, not much larger than a large rat.

His head and shoulders were so large in proportion to the body as to

give him a comical look. He could not walk about yet, and had never

before been above ground. Every moment or two he would whistle cheerily,

as the old one does when safe in his den with the farm-dog fiercely

baying outside.



We took the youngster home, and my little boy was delighted over the

prospect of a tame woodchuck. Not till the next day would he eat. Then,

getting a taste of the milk, he clutched the spoon that held it with

great eagerness, and sucked away like a little pig. We were all

immensely diverted by him. He ate eagerly, grew rapidly, and was soon

able to run about.



As the old one had been killed, we became curious as to the fate of the

rest of her family, for no doubt there were more. Had she moved them, or

had we intercepted her on her first trip? We knew where the old den was,

but not the new. So we would keep a lookout. Near the end of the week,

on passing by the old den, there were three young ones creeping about a

few feet from its mouth. They were starved out, and had come forth to

see what could be found. We captured them all, and the young family was

again united. How these poor, half-famished creatures did lay hold of

the spoon when they got a taste of the milk! One could not help

laughing. Their little shining black paws were so handy and so smooth;

they seemed as if encased in kid gloves. The captives throve well upon

milk, and then upon milk and clover.



But after the novelty of the thing had worn off, the boy found he had

incumbered himself with serious duties in assuming the position of

foster-mother to this large family; so he gave them all away but one,

the first one captured, which had outstripped all the others in growth.

This soon became a very amusing pet, but he always protested when

handled, and always objected to confinement. I should mention that the

cat had a kitten about the age of the chuck, and, as she had more milk

than the kitten could dispose of, the chuck, when we first got him, was

often placed in the nest with the kitten, and was regarded by the cat as

tenderly as her own, and allowed to nurse freely. Thus a friendship

sprang up between the kitten and the woodchuck, which lasted as long as

the latter lived. They would play together precisely like two

kittens,--clinch and tumble about and roll upon the grass in a very

amusing way. Finally the woodchuck took up his abode under the floor of

the kitchen, and gradually relapsed into a half-wild state. He would

permit no familiarities from any one save the kitten, but each day they

would have a turn or two at their old games of rough-and-tumble. The

chuck was now over half grown, and procured his own living. One day the

dog, who had all along looked upon him with a jealous eye, encountered

him too far from cover, and his career ended then and there.



In July the woodchuck was forgotten in our interest in a little gray

rabbit which we found nearly famished. It was so small that it could sit

in the hollow of one's hand. Some accident had probably befallen its

mother. The tiny creature looked spiritless and forlorn. We had to force

the milk into its mouth. But in a day or two it began to revive, and

would lap the milk eagerly. Soon it took to grass and clover, and then

to nibbling sweet apples and early pears. It grew rapidly, and was one

of the softest and most harmless-looking pets I had ever seen. For a

month or more the little rabbit was the only company I had, and it

helped to beguile the time immensely. In coming in from the field or

from my work, I seldom failed to bring it a handful of red clover

blossoms, of which it became very fond. One day it fell slyly to licking

my hand, and I discovered it wanted salt. I would then moisten my

fingers, dip them into the salt, and offer them to the rabbit. How

rapidly the delicate little tongue would play upon them, darting out to

the right and left of the large front incisors, the slender paws being

pressed against my hand as if to detain it!



But the rabbit proved really untamable; its wild nature could not be

overcome. In its large box-cage or prison, where it could see nothing

but the tree above it, it was tame, and would at times frisk playfully

about my hand and strike it gently with its forefeet; but the moment it

was liberated in a room, or let down in the grass with a string about

its neck, all its wild nature came forth. In the room it would run and

hide; in the open it would make desperate efforts to escape, and leap

and bound as you drew in the string that held it. At night, too, it

never failed to try to make its escape from the cage, and finally, when

two thirds grown, it succeeded, and we saw it no more.





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