Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

February 26, 1922. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 57(19=22): 3-W.

Patience and Silence Passwords to Nature

Unspoken Language of Sympathy Which Puts Student in Touch With Life of the Great Woods and Fields.

By Sandy Griswold

There are but few qualities in the study of our little folk of the wilds, either furred or feathered, so valuable and necessary as patience and silence. These are the passwords in our great woods and fields. Only those who live in the circle of the city's turmoil and society's insincerity fell the necessity for babble and bustle. In the woods, under the subtle influence of nature, the successful students are strangely quiescent. There is an unspoken language that sympathetic natures feel and understand - a mutual comprehension of each other's thoughts and emotions which makes spoken language a discord.

Nature does not copyright her gifts of sunlight and fresh air, nor the ever changing panorama of earth and sky, neither does she wear mourning for her dead. Upon her sepulchers she throws a lapful of sweet blossoms and laughs at death as if it were a joke. A puddle evaporates and a million tadpoles peris, but the species survives, for nature teems with life. A king dies and nature recks no more of it than if a worm had been impaled upon a hook. Alas, poor man, who emblazons the clouds with a searchlight to proclaim to all the world that a being had died who localized and safely vaulted, as eddies retain driftwood.

Some men's companion in the woods is a dog, but he is a different creature from the noisy vagrant of civilization. In the woods he is dignified, watchful and silent - the trained partner of the nature student. Who shall say that dumb creatures have no emotions, that nature's gentler moods, the play of light and shade, the droning of the insects and the sighing of the wind are unnoticed and unheeded by them. Here is Jejunum, who trots sedately at his master's heels, through some subtle instinct knows that he is not hunting rabbits, and therefore refrains from molesting them. We realize his intelligence, but who can estimate his comprehension of all that we know and feel beyond the one barrier that exists between us in our inability to understand his language and learn from him all about it. Room for the man, but none for his dog, said old Charon, as he rowed his passenger across the Acheron, and the dog was left behind. Yet who would not hope that in the Elysium beyond the river, with its Asphodel meadows and Isles of the Blest, man's comrade of the woods might enter and share the hope that cannot be demonstrated by science nor denied by speculative philosophy.

A Hyacinth and Immortality.

Nature alone furnishes the only evidence of immortality. In a dark, unusual drawer of my office desk there has lain through the long winter months a hyacinth bulb, shrunken and lifeless. It has had a warm resting place next to the radiator, but the heat only shriveled it the more, until one day the past week, without any material change of temperature, or light, or moisture, it put forth a tiny green shoot. What genii with magic wand has touched the germ cells of its being and bade them awaken? If one could but answer that simple question in nature, we might be able to tell you how the world came into existence.

Now that the crows have begun to bestir themselves, and large and straggling flocks are to be seen winnowing their way from the uplands to covert river valley and back again, morning and evening, I am reminded of a queer scene I witnessed one late November afternoon several years ago.

The old wild hemp field, a mile or so north of Calhoun, used to be a favorite feeding and marshaling place of the crows. The barrister and I were up there dove shooting, and we were waiting for a shot up on the little oak ridge that runs along the west side of the old field. Our attention was attracted by the large number of crows that were scurrying in and settling down upon a big clover field just north of the hemp patch, with much raucous cawing, and curious to know what it was all about, we sneaked down and amid the thick stalks of the hemp worked our way to the very edge of the field without startling a single crow. And the sight was an exhilarating one. Spread out before us, some of them almost within touching distance of our guns, were several thousand crows. We stood and watched them closely for something like a half hour, and when they ceased cawing there seemed to be some sort of an understanding among them.

Crows Hold Court In the Green Meadow.

"They are holding court," whispered the barrister.

And it did look as if some sort of a meeting had been called, and although we couldn't make out which one of the big black fellows was the judge, I like Bill, felt that there was one there.

Prior to this action they had all been busily harrowing the close cut clover stubble for mice, beetles and other food, when, suddenly, at a commandatory squawk from some quarter, they all came to a standstill, sat straight up, all attention, and then what seemed very much like it, anyway, the roll was called, each crow answering that same shrill, imperative squawk separately, and when this was over, they all joined in a deafening chorus of caws, hopping excitedly about over the sward for a short time, and then rising together, flapped their way in much decorum, in long streaming lines of black, to the woods, along the further ridge, where they had their nightly roost.

It was all grandly interesting and mysterious, but a year or two later, also in the late fall, while out on the Platte duck shooting with glorious old Sam Richmond; now sleeping peacefully in the little churchyard out in Polk county, I had a still more thrilling experience, which I guess I still have room here to relate.

Invalid Crow and His Comrader.

We were trudging in from our blind, when we noticed three crows in a row on a low limb of a cottonwood, and while two of them appeared strangely perturbed, were making all kinds of fuss, the other looked like an invalid, so forlorn and hopeless did he seem. His feathers looked as if they had all grown the wrong way, and a more miserable looking specimen of a bird I had never seen.

Sam wanted to take the whole trio off the limb with his gun, but I restrained him and told him that I thought the sick one, who was between the other two, had already been wounded, and the other two were attending him. So we squatted down in our tracks and waited and watched.

After a while we saw the two outsiders make a start, as if off for a race, but the poor forlorn party did not leave his perch. The two, noting this, came back as if to score over again, which they did repeatedly, but the other was unphased by their movements.

Then all of a sudden, with harsh cries they set upon him, and began to flay him with wings, beak and claw, until he squawked for mercy. Then they let up, and started away again, the poor berated one going with them, all in a line, just as they had sat on the limb.

I have thought much over this incident many a time since, but have never been able to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion, but at the same time, I must add, it raised by many degrees the high esteem I have always held for this much maligned bird, ever since the days of my earliest boyhood.