Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. March 25, 1900. [Sweet Spring Time for Sportsman]. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 35(175): 20. Portion of column.

Forest, Field and Stream.

  • When the wintry nights are over,
  • And the days are getting long,
  • And the ice drifts from the river,
  • And you hear the robin's song
  • Floating through the glorious sunshine,
  • Cheering up the hearts of all,
  • And you hear from o'er the meadows
  • Dainty Bob White's morning call—
  • When we breathe the pure air coming
  • From the pine woods far away,
  • And you feel your blood run faster,
  • Then you wish that you could stray
  • From all work and worldly trouble;
  • Take a boat down by the shore;
  • Throw away each pain and sorrow,
  • And be happy ever more.
  • When the ducks are flying northward
  • From the south, where flowers grow,
  • And the geese all night are honking
  • As they come and as they go—
  • Then you love to stop and linger
  • By the lakeside and the stream,
  • Having all the birds around you—
  • Knowing things are what they seem.
  • Feeling then that you are better
  • For the sun and for the shower,
  • And that life is worth the living,
  • Every day and every hour.—A. Hazleton.

Surely the most longed for, the most welcome season of all the year, the sweet spring time, has at last arrived. Rejuvenation can be seen in all animate and inanimate nature, from the delicate spirals of new grass on the sloping hillsides, the reddening twigs of the maples, the willow's yellow tendrils, the twittering energy of new-come birds, to the beamy face and elastic step of man himself.

While the spring is far from the legitimate season for the sportsman, he is never more restlessly energetic. Beleaguered within walls for a long five months he is rampant for the open air. Out of the distant fields come, sweet and faint, the call of the curlew and the jingle of the blackbirds. From high overhead come down the clarion notes of the goose, the whistle of the duck's wings, the piping of the plover and the cry of the snipe, each steering for his northern breeding grounds, yet enticing him forth. Spiritless, indeed, is he who can list unheeding to these voices and to the sweet prattle or running waters and dancing waves. Though these come to them from all about, and all about them are unfolded the manifold beauties of this gorgeous time, they should, but of course, will not, stay at home. Could it be that their dull ears hear not the voices of nature and their dim eyes see not the wondrous miracle of spring which has been wrought within their touch.

Like the man with the muck rake, they would then delve on, intent only upon the filth and litter at their feet. Sad indeed would it be to have a soul so poor that it would respond to no caress of nature; sadder than any imposition of servitude or exile which yet hinders not one's soul from arising with intense longing for the wild world of woods and fields and waters when spring sounds her soft trumpet call.

Down in the marsh the icy fetters have given place to warm purling currents, and the glad sunshine spreads a golden robe over the brown stretch of tules, the tattered rice stalks, and the gleaming breaks as well. The lodges of the muskrats have disintegrated under the caresses of the sun and lustful waters and are drifting about in the floods. But their purpose has been served, and here and there their winter inmates, with their flat, comical heads above the surface, are seen voyaging up this channel or across that, sweet-heart hunting or food gathering. It is the same under the broad blaze of day or the starlight of night, no longer is their domain dimmed by roof or ice. There goes a gay old lothario now, down that fine bedraggled sluice, cutting the waters with a long arrowy wake, coasting the oozy shore, whimpering plaintively in his amorous greed for conquest. Like the red tail hawk curving in the blue dome, you marvel at his speed and gracefulness.

The mallard with his rufous hued consort, the velvety emerald and iridescent blue of their plumage glistening back the shafts of topaz from the climbing sun, move along over submerged roots and through the disheveled rice, silent as thistle down upon the slumbering air; a pair of started widgeon splash to flight with raucous clamor out of a sedgy crypt at their approach, while the thronging black birds, red winged and golden capped, shower liquid melody from the purpled-budded pucker-brush and the cattailed inflorescence of the willows, and all about you, from the drift of floating and stranded water-weeds, sounds the crackling orchestra of amphibian musicians.

From afar out in the mirey recesses comes the guttural counselings of the wary sandhills, accompanied now and then by the vibrant ah-unk of the Canada, the shout of the improvident hunter and the hollow clang of the oars, as in disgust, he drops them thoughtlessly athwart the gunwales of his craft which has balked somewhere in the tangly rot of moss and sodden tules. But you and I have been there oft before, and we crouch low in the weeds, and still as death, wait for the scurrying bunch of mallards, his clamor has flushed, and a moment later the crack of our good old Peter's shells tells that we have profited by our neighbor's inexperience.

But these are but inconsequential incidents in the life of the sportsman in the last days of fretful March and lachrymose April. The grateful odors of the warming earth comes to his nostrils; to his ears from every direction, the sounds of the opening of a new season of buoyant existence, the winsome spring; and yet as he plunges through the quag in pursuit of the elusive jack, of flounders amidst the flood for passing ducks or geese, he pauses, even in this keen excitement, and listens for a fuller confirmation of its presence in the tinkling bells of the yellowleg and the rollicking mating song of the meadow lark.

It is not the well-filled bag that makes this season the most glorious epoch of all the twelvemonth to the taste of the sportsman and the lover of out-of-door life, but it is the new balm all these sights and sounds of the new world pours into his swelling heart. He knows for true that there should be little killing now. He knows what the death of a single duck or goose on its northern migration means to him and others, too, when the season to which shooting naturally belongs, rolls round with the painted banners of October. No honest, right-minded man will countenance the killing of Bob White or prairie chicken in the spring, and why be less sparing of the wild fowl, the plover, yellowleg and snipe? The poor reason is that one must do what others do, or deny himself a pleasure that others will enjoy. Again some sportsmen say that the quail and the grouse breed with us and if we kill them now the loss is directly apparent, forced at once upon us, when in early summer days we visit the barren covers, fruitless now, not because of untimely harvesting, but for the lack of seed, the life-giving germ, which the far northern fields, on which the crop of the water fowl and the waders are grown, is for the most part beyond our sight and ken. Just as surely as if we destroyed the seed there instead of here, the yearly crop diminishes and less and less of it returns to us. But it is certainly futile to preach, for spring will dawn, birds will come, at least for a few more years, and men will shoot, and maybe by following the motto "do as others do" you will be all right, that it is not so bad after all. In my opinion the only plea for this improvident indulgence in the grand pastime, this killing of the migrants, is that without it we would be without spring shooting of any kind save that at inanimate targets at the trap. As if life were not worth living unless the sportsman can be killing something from the beginning to the end of the year, and as if it were not better to stay our hands for a brief time now, than to have nothing at all to shoot by and by but the birds of asphaltum and clay which are sprung from an iron trap.

But as I intimated above such talk is idle, and it may be that we are all mistaken after all and that it is only a part of the grand system leading up to the inevitable culmination in chaos, that we kill and kill and respond to the lusts that are upon us. Who can say?

In speaking about spring and the delights of the duck and the snipe hunter, I might add that it will not be found unpleasant or unprofitable to take to the woods now also. Surely the timbered vales along the Elkhorn, and the crawling Rawhide will be found more pleasing than the untidy fields. When nature has her own way with herself she makes her garb seemly even now, after all the tousling and abrasions she gave it in her angry and petulant winter moods. The scraps of moss, bark and twigs with which the last surface of snow was obtrusively littered lie now unnoticed on the flat-pressed leaves, an umber carpet, dotted here and there with flecks of ambitious green, there sprigged with fronds of the adder's tongue, purple leaves of the squirrel cup and its downy buds and first blossoms. Between banks clad in peeping grasses and pinkish spring beauties, the sprawling Rawhide bubbles as joyously as amid the roses and the bloom of June, and catches a brighter gleam from the unhampered sunbeams. So befittingly are the trees arrayed in graceful tracery of spray and beads of flossy buds that their unseemly nakedness is as beautiful as the attire of summer's greenness or autumn's kaleidoscopic hues could make them.

Never sweeter than now, after the long silence of winter, do the voices of the robin and the jay, the trill of the nuthatch and the melancholy call of the chickadee sound, and never in all the round of the year is there a better time to see them when the gray haze of the branches is the only hiding of their gay wedding garments.