Sandy Griswold. February 5, 1899. [Forest, Field and Stream. February Days.] Omaha Sunday World-Herald 34(129): 24.
Forest, Field and Stream.
In the blur of storm or under clear skies, the span of daylight stretches further from the fading dusk of evening. Now in the silent downfall of snow, now in the drift and whirl of flakes, driven from the sky and tossed from the earth by the shrieking wind, the day's passage is unmarked by shadows. It is but a long twilight, coming upon the world out of one misty gloom, and going from it into another.
February days. The most trying of all the twelvemonth to portray.
Now the stars fade and vanish in the yellow morning sky, the long shadows of the bluffs along the frozen Missouri, clear cut on the shining fields, swing slowly northward and draw eastward in the matted umbrage of the woods.
So the day grows and wanes, and the attenuated shadows are again stretched to their utmost, then dissolve in the flood of shade, and the pursued sunlight takes flight from the bluffs' tops to the clouds, from cloud to cloud along the darkening sky, and vanishes beyond the blue barrier of the horizon. There are days in February of perfect calm and hours of stillness as of sleep, when the lightest wisp of cloud fleece hangs moveless against the sky and the cottonwood's naked branches forget their song. But for the white columns of smoke, unbent in the still air, arising from farmstead chimneys, one might imagine that all the affairs of life had been laid aside for a while, for no other sign of them is visible, no sounds of them falls upon the car. You see the stock in the sheltered barnyards and their lazy breaths arising in little clouds, but no sound of theirs drifts to you. The broad expanse of river and lake is a white plain of snow-covered ice, no dash of hungry waves assails its shore, still glittering with the trophies of their last assault; no glimmer of bright waters greets the sun; no scudding duck is to be seen, and the muskrat's reedy castle is a frozen cone.
In the wooded bottoms you may hear no sound but your own muffled footsteps, the crackle of dry twigs and the soft swish of boughs swinging back from your passage, and now and then the spirit call of some lonely chickadee. You hear no other bird, nor squirrel, nor sound of the sportsman's gun, nor do you catch the pungent fragrance of the brushwood. Indeed all odors of the tangly valleys seem frozen out of the air or locked up in their sources. No perfume drops from the overladen branches of plum and crab-apple; only scentless air comes to your nostrils.
Faster come the clouds out of the south and out of the west, till they crowd the sky, only fragments of its intense azure showing here and there between them, only now and then a gleam of sunlight flashing across the earth. Then the blue sunlit sky is quite shut away behind a low arch of gray, darkening at the horizon with thick water clouds, and beneath all the expanse of fields and woods lies in universal shadow. Such scenes always come in February. The south shine is warmer than yesterday's sunshine, the snow softens, and rain begins to patter upon the roof with the familiar sound of summer showers. It becomes a steady down pour that continues until the saturated snow can hold no more, and the Rawhide and the Papio begin to show yellow streaks between white, unstable shores, and glide with a quick, whisking rush over the sandy bottom that paves their natural bed, and as their yellow currents deepen and divide more widely their banks, the noise of their outflow fills the air like an exaggeration of the murmur of soft winds through the low sumacks, and the low song they sing, swells and falls with the varying wind.
It is at this time that strange, indefinable yearning takes possession of the sportsman's breast and he catches himself morning and evening straining his hearing to catch that mellow, but far-sounding "ah-aunk, ah-aunk" he knows should soon be falling from the sky.
After the rain there comes, perhaps, some hours of quiet sunshine or starlight, and then out of the north a nipping wind that wraps again all nature in its rigorous folds, and sends the too venturesome pintail or premature Canada on swift wing back to the south again. A fall of fluffy snow follows and in the thin wood along the Elkhorn's bottom, one might imagine that our well-tamed country had lapsed into the possession of its ancient tenants, for the track of the skunk is as big as a wolf's, the raccoon's as large as a bear's, the house cat's as broad as a panther's, and those of the muskrat and the mink persuade you to believe that the beaver and the otter, departed a quarter of century ago, have returned to their own again. The delicate curves and circles that the bent weeds etched on the soft carpet are widened and deepened in rigid grooves, wherein the point that the fingers of the wind traced them with is frozen fast. Far and wide from where they fall, all manner of seeds drift across miles of smooth fields, to spring to life and bloom, by and by, in strange, unaccustomed places, and brown leaves voyage to where their like was never known. The icy knolls shine in the sunlight with dazzling splendor like golden islands in a white sea that the north wind stirs not, and athwart it the low sun and the waning moon cast their long unrippled glades of gold and silver. Over all winter again holds sway, but wait, do you not see those patches of blue, like the eyes of your sweetheart, opening in the sombre pall; do you not behold how fast the maple buds are unfolding their brown friz, and in the winds do you not catch something like the sound of running brooks and the mellow promise of spring? In a few more short weeks, along the moist banks, the azure bloom of the mimulous will begin to help out the more brilliant blue of the lobelia, the wild cucumber will festoon the piles of drift, and on almost every breeze will the whistle of the duck's wing be heard. Soon along the shallow shores the yellowleg will sound his tinkling call, and before the rose-colored flowers of the water plantain begins to droop, the shrill note of the yellow-hammer will mingle with the plaintive cries of the kildeer, and we will all realize that spring is here.
In the show-window of Taxidermist Lawrence Skow's store and workshop on South Thirteenth street is a pair of mounted whooping cranes-Grus Americana-that would make a valuable acquisition to the National museum or any other noted collection of our fast disappearing game birds. The whooping crane twenty years ago was to be numerously encountered upon the great plains and in the sandhill marshlands of this state, but the sight of a single bird is now a rarity. This bird is noted for its piercing whoop-like note, is an excellent table bird, and one that is still much sought after by the gastronomes of the metropolitan cities. It is a huge bird, much larger than the sandhill crane, of pure white, save the tips of the wings and drooping plumes over the rump, which are glossy black, and the scarlet cranium. Later I will have something to say on the sport this royal bird once furnished the sportsmen of this western country.