Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. June 14, 1908. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 43(37): 2-M.

To Be Healthy and Wise Get Up With the Birds

Lessons in the Shades of Eventide as Well as Those in the Sunshine.

After a Hot Summer Day How Welcome Is the Approach of Night.

Doubtless there is unbounded wisdom in the old saying that to be healthy, wealthy and wise, one must retire and arise with the birds. This old saying is founded perhaps, on the belief that the lineage of man is traceable through a remote ancestry of feathered bipeds; but admitting this to be correct, it is not unlikely that the prehistoric owls may have formed a branch of our family, and that they may have bequeathed to us both wisdom and love of the hours when the sun doesn't shine. Another old proverb puts us wise to the fact that "the early bird catches the worm." But again, there are many of us who think that this woeful catastrophe served the worm right for being up so prematurely. However, the problem is right. He who rises to see the sunshine of a summer morning, joyously welcomed by all the busy fields and woods, does, indeed, gain much. But if he goes to his slumbers when the deeper shades of twilight come softly over the landscape, he loses sight of nature just as she arrays herself in one of her most witching moods.

In the bright sunshine of day time, the sight is charmed by the varied forms and colors that greet it and by pleasing sights of every kind, but in the evening the vision gains a needed rest. It is no longer dazzled by brightness, but it opens wide its portals, and the few dim rays, which enter, form a faint and dreamy picture that only soothes the weary sense. It is otherwise with the hearing. Night is the time to feast the ear. In the day we are so intent on looking that we forget to listen.

Tender melodies are sweetest when heard in the quiet of the evening. The swelling breeze, whispering through the cottonwoods as we lie in camp on the old Platte. The song and cheery shouts of returning gunners, coming faintly over the water to those already in camp. In the dimness of eventide, each sound comes to us, full of its own soft messages. They gently touch the cords of life and echo back the harmony the spirit feels.

Normally, our Nebraska evenings, from May until autumn, are a carnival of melody. It is one of the first evidences that spring has come, the season of bursting buds and greening hillsides, when from every swail and lowland, the chorus of the hyla arises. What these begin the insects prolong, until the last chirp of the lingering October cricket. The dog days' nights are the best for hearing these latter in full voice. They keep up such a monotonous hum that finally the ear ceases to notice it.

After a long, hot summer day, all animated nature seems to welcome the approach of night. The toilers of the forests, fields and streams, one by one go to rest, and the nocturnal ramblers, both feathered and furred, comes forth. They are few in number, however, when compared with bustling life of day time.

One of the first of our evening birds is the hermit thrush. When crimson Phoebus swings low in the west, from the deep recesses of our low, damp woods comes his plaintive notes, so clear, so mournful, and so full of mystic meaning. It seems impossible that they could have come from the throat of a bird. He is not properly a night bird, but sings at twilight or in the quiet dusk before a rain. He is an instance of nature's harmony. His song would be out of place in the hot, parched meadow, where they white winged black bird sounds his gay carillon; but when the shadows have spread to the hilltops and a quiet hush broods along the country road, when body and spirit, weary with the toil, welcome the twilights fall, then comes from the enchanted woodland this sweet, sad requiem for the dying day. Later, but rarely do we hear it in Nebraska, comes that real nocturnal sound, the who-hoo-hoo of the big horned owl as he wings his silent way through cottonwood grove and along the lonely river. What a mass of fluff are the owl's pinions. Not the slightest swish, nor softest whisper comes from those moving sails. He carries on his warfare in the dark of the night, and rows through the air with muffled oars.

To know the full sweetness of the evening hour, one must spend much time in the fields and woods, and make his nightly couch in the open out-of-doors. Perservere and in the dim of the early night a new world of sight and sound will open to you. The most familiar paths and roads seem strange and creepy. The most harmless things suffice to give you a little start, and increase your curiosity. It isn't always necessary to hunt nature's treasures in the darkness, seek some mossy knoll at the edge of the woods or on Platte's shore and they will in all likelihood come to you. There! See that bat darting, whirling and gyrating above and about you; and there above the trees against the lemon sky is a score of night hawks foraging for insects. How sharp and distinct is their be-zeek! be-zeek! as they ramble their aerial way.

Again from down along the shadowy shore comes the whimper of the foraging and voyaging muskrat; the plop of some venturesome fish, and the vibrant quack of feeding ducks. If you grow bold and stroll into the woods for more sounds and adventures, you must see with your feet, for even in our scanty river timber the darkness becomes dense when once the last flame dies out of the overhead sky. But for wanderings of this kind, wait for a night when the moon sheds her slivery light over field, river and wood. You'll find your task a much easier and enjoyable one. The moonlight is a picture of daylight painted by a fairy artist. Like the orb from which it radiates, it is half darkness. However bright the one side of that old cottonwood or that clump of sumach, the other is hid in mysterious shadow. Objects in the distance, too, are only seen in faint and uncertain outline. These veiled places are blanks for the imagination to fill out with fanciful maybes. The brightest moonlight is deceitful; it turns the commonest objects into precious stones. On every leaf hangs a star, and the sands along the Platte's naked bars glitter with diamonds.

There are lights celestial and lights terrestrial, and though the latter be feeble compared with the former, they are by no means devoid of interest. Cannot you recall a night in the early summer time when you were coming in along the Dodge street road from a drive or auto whirl when the fire-flies filled the yawning darkness in their mazy flight over the bordering pasture lands and teeming fields; as far as your eye could reach all was an expanse of blackness lit up by myriads of flashing sparks.

But strange indeed, are the sights and sounds of nature in the evening. They have bred superstition, fable and mysticism, but in these day of higher and broader education they create but an enchantment over the mind, shorn of its daylight folly, leaving but sweetest peace. And the sportsman, the hunter and the angler knows it all best. Happy is he who knows the perfect repose that comes to the healthy duck hunter or bass fisher who dwell in tents, for the time, in the spring, in the fall, and in lovely summer time. Light and sound fade to dimmest visions and whispers. On the wings of vague imaginings the soul floats into that blessed dreamland where bright fancy reigns supreme, where all our hopes and desires, though long since vanished in the mist of years, shall again come back to us and gratify us as nothing else can.