Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. September 4, 1898. [Forest, Field and Stream. September Days.] Omaha Sunday World-Herald 33(339): 21.

Forest, Field and Stream.

September days.

The woods along the river bottoms are dense with fast ripening leafage. On the prairie and bordering lake stream the autumnal flowers are opening their painted faces to crown the waning summer and fill the sun-steeped air with a perfume that calls all the bees to a wealth of honey-gathering and a sweeter pillage than has been offered them by odorous seas of clover and buckwheat. The summer flowers are out of bloom. Timothy, wild herdgrass, wheat and rye have fallen before the mower. The straw stacks and hay cocks have caught the color of the sun and the freighted cornstalk rustles its broad yellowing leaves above the drying loam in which the jacksnipe is wont to bore a month later.

The dwindling streams have lost the boisterous clamor of summertide and whimple with subdued voices over beds too shallow to hide a minnow or the poised shadow of bass or pickerel. The keen eye of the tireless angler probes to the bottom of the green depths of the slowly swirling pools, and discovers the lurking place of the larger fish that congregate therein.

The river has marked the stages of its decreasing volume with many lines along its steep banks, and discloses the muskrat's doorway, to which he dived so gracefully back in June, but to which now he must clumsily climb. Rafts of drift wood the shallow current sunk so low that the lithe willows bend in vain to kiss the warm bosom. This only the swaying trail of water weeds toy with now; these and the rustling sedges of swift-winged swallows coyly touching it. Along the mystic Platte the azure coated king-fisher cackles in unrestrained jubilation, as launching from a dead cottonwood snag he skims the glistening surface, for there is no depth to secret the scurrying schools of minnows, the half of whom fly into the air in a curving burst of silver shower before the rush of the voracious pickerel, whose green and mottled sides gleam like a swift-shot arrow in the downright sunbeams.

The yellowleg's tinkling note resounds through the hazy atmosphere and the sand piper tills along the shelving bar. Out of an embowered harbor an old hen mallard convoys her fleet of ducklings, now as big as she, and on the ripples in their wake the anchored argosies of the water lilies toss and cast adrift their cargoes of subtle fragrance. Above them the sable crow perches on an overhanging branch, uncouth but alert, flapping his awkward way along the bends and reaches in search of stranded fish or the wounded victim of the sportsman's gun. With quickening wing-beats, he signals the coming of the pugnacious bee-bird, who chases him off to the covert of the woods, or the lazily moving boat of early gunner or industrious angler, as it drifts at the languid will of the sluggish current or indolent pull of oars that grate on the golden-meshed sand and pebbles.

On the restful lake the market fisherman's cork makes a convenient perch for the dragon fly, for pike and bass seem disinclined to molest or disturb the tempting lure that baits the line beneath. He is left to bask in the sun's sultry rays and to enjoy to the full the contemplative man's recreation as he dreamily floats in sunshine and dappled shadow, such a port of the placid waters and quiet shores that yellowleg, sandpiper and mallard scarcely note his unobtrusive presence.

Not such luxuriant and meditative pastime attends his brother of the gun, who, perspiring under the burden of lightest apparel and equipment, beats up and across the wild meadows, beats through the waving corn, where, beneath the sprawling ragweed and arching fronds of mullein and dock, the prairie chicken hides. Not a breath stirs the murky atmosphere of these dancing prairies and depths of lowly shade, hotter than sunshine; not a stalk or long blade moves but with his struggling passage, or marking with a wake of waving weed and grass the course of the unseen dog. Excepting this rustling of corn leaves, sedges and tangly vegetation, the thin, continuous piping of the pestiferous buffalo gnat and swarming mosquitoes; the incessant monotone of infinite cicadae; the occasional caw of the distant crow, scarcely a sound invades the hot silence till the wake of the hidden setter ceases suddenly and the waving grass sways with quickening vibrations into stillness behind him. Then the expectant hunter advances cautiously, with gun at ready and an unheeded gnat drilling his nose, the yellowing blades burst apart with a sudden shiver, and a flurry of gray and white upsprings in a halo of rapid wing-beats, and a flock of chickens is scurrying away over the rise and down the draw. As quick, the heel-plate strikes the sportsman's shoulder and as if in response to the shock, the sharp unechoed report of King's smokeless jars the silence of plain and field. As if out of the hazy air, a shower of sunflower petals flutter down, with a quicker patter of fragmented ragweed stalks and shards of cornblades, and among all these, a gray mottled clod, or maybe two, dropping lifeless and inert to mother earth.

A chicken is a chicken, though but three-quarters grown; but would not the achievement above depicted have been more worthy, the prize richer, the sport keener, in the gaudy leafage and bracing air of October days, rather than in this late summer sweltering heat, befogged with clouds of pestering insects, when every step is a toil, every moment next to torture? Yet men deem it sport and glory if they do not actually enjoy its performance. The anxious cluck-cluck-cluck of the mother birds, whose heart are in as great a flutter as their wings concerning their half grown broods is proof enough to those who would heed it, that early September is not the proper season for shooting. But it seems to be chicken now or never with a majority of the vast army of sportsmen, who have in view the shameless market hunter and the hordes of so-called sportsmen who fear neither heat or laborious march through meshes of stifling corn and prairie grass. Are there not chicken and quail and wild fowl awaiting us, and while we wait for them cannot we not content ourselves with indolent angling by shaded streams in these suffocating dog star days rather than by contributing the blaze of gun powder to the heat and murkiness of an abnormal season for such a pastime? If the sportsman must shed blood at such a time let him tap the cool veins of the bass and pike and pickerel, not the hot arteries of solicitous mother birds and cheeping fledglings.

But these are September days.