Sandy Griswold. September 11, 1898. [Passing the Middle Milestone of Pilgrimage Through Vale of Tears]. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 33(346): 20. Portion of Forest, Field and Stream column.
Forest, Field and Stream.
As you approach or after you have passed the middle milestone of your pilgrimage through this vale of tears, and still cherish the forest, field and stream for the pleasures they have yielded you and the best they have still to give, you see nothing about you or beyond you so paradisiacal as the enchanted land of your youthful days, which lie far in the rear, half shrouded in the golden haze of memory. Long ago you held in the mirage of youth and hope scenes as fair as these, ever before you, but receding as you advanced. They were never nearer than tomorrow, then faded, then vanished. Now you know you shall never find in all the brief span that is left you a land so beautiful and so happy as the one that lies behind you. You remember this as no land of fancy, but of blissful reality.
The intensest cold of midwinter was exhilarating, and never was the golden sunshine of summer too hot; the seasons were all genial, the heavy frost time as well as balmy summer and mellow autumn, the months then being longer than the years now.
There was a charm about everything in nature, the bald sand hills, broken bluffs, level meadows and rolling plain, the lakes, the rivers, sloughs, with reedy borders, and wooded bottoms, from whose depths of sylvan shade illusive voices called, not the piping of the blue bird or the tinkle of the robin, nor the murmur of cottonwoods, nor liquid monotone of ambitious rivulet, but strange, mysterious aeolean voices, perchance of leafy sprites and woodland sirens. The meadow larks' song was never sweeter, nor dreamier the lullaby of wind swept prairie, nor more musical the roystering babble of the Platte or the rushing Elkhorn, fretting in silver gleams from shore to shore.
Where the Rawhide wound through the sprawling wild cucumber with its octopus-like tentacles, countless jacksnipe bored the rich mold; where it joined the Platte, and its estuary widened out, hordes of mallards and teal and wood duck, thronged the reeds or wrinkled the broad surface with their braided wakes. Beneath, in water aisles, pillared with splatterdock stems and roofed with circular, purplish pads, the buffalo, bass and pickerel filed in stately procession. There the muskrat built his domed lodge of flag-leaves and tule-stalks and kept the sloughs populous in the depths of winter with his busy, unseen, silent tribe, and all the year the stealthy skunk, rich prize of the farmer trapper, prowled along the shores, and through the fields, preying on fish, flesh or fowl. There, too, the red-winged blackbird twittered and streamed above all the long day, and the swamp wren piped its insect-like strain, while the clouds wreathed pictures above, as the selfish wind played over all.
When April's sun and April's showers steeped the prairies in the balm of spring, the booming crow of the wild chicken quavered from knoll to knoll in the scarlet and gold of October, thundered with their flight. Then the plover, the yellowleg, the jack and sandpiper thronged to feasts of seed and larvae; the fox squirrel glanced his rufous shape amongst the scrubby timber, and undisturbed bevies of quail whistled in the stubble.
Corn fields were not valued according to their yield of grain, but according to the chicken and grouse that were attracted to them for shade and feed, and the exciting sport they afforded. Every upland and low land cover harbored its cottontail or jack, and the possibility of a shot at a deer was none too slender. Of course there was a legendary gray wolf, whose gruesome presence you felt in the silent draws and dark ravines where twilight and darkness alternately brooded. The concatenation of delightful notes which issue from the coyote's red throat was the nightly serenade from the ridge's top.
All the fabled land, all the glistening, crystal waters, were an inexhaustible preserve, and fence posts and wayside trees were not plastered with "no shooting on this farm" placards. All were as free to all comers as the air is to the flight of the wild fowl. But these happy scenes, I say again, lie behind in your shadow after you have passed the midway milepost, and it is only the shadowy forms of comrades you make out through the mist of years, ghostly voices that catch the dulling ear, echoing over the lake, adown the valley and through the wood, sights and sounds of a life spent, the phantasmagoria of encroaching time. Yet blest is he whose memory restores youth, beautiful and sweet the pictures viewed with the eyes closed.
A small bunch of wild pigeons, the true passenger pigeon, once so numerous in Iowa, was seen north of Quinnebogg, a few days ago, writes an Omaha angler encamped up there. What a boon it would be if these splendid birds would return here to congregate once more. Such things have taken place. It is the habit of many animals, birds and fishes, all over the world, to return to old stamping grounds after prolonged absence, and in some instances species which were for a time believed to be extinct showed up again as numerous as before. And yet I fear this will never be the case with the wild pigeon.
Con Young, Fred Hamilton and Gus Icken have returned from a few days' sojourn, out on the Middle Loup, a few miles from the pretty village of Arcadia. They found the chickens in unusual abundance and of course made a fine bag, only shooting an hour or two in the early morning and in the evening. In addition to plenty of chicken, Mr. Young said that the country along the Loup was fairly swarming with quail, and that there would be better sport there after the decay of the vegetation this fall than has been known in that region for years.