Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

October 1, 1916. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 52(1): 3-S.

Thoughts That Come With a Perfect Autumn Day

By Sandy Griswold.

Incidentally, these are the days of golden October, days in which you may go prairie chicken shooting. The open season started one month ago, but there are many birds still left in many localities, the sport ought to be at its very best from this on.

And what a boon to tired man is a day's ramble with the gun after this matchless game bird in this beautiful month.

In the high grass the cricket is hurrying his song to its end, and in the first suggestion of real chill that has fallen upon the sweet old summer time, most all our song birds are turning their eyes wistfully toward the south, or have already winged their way in that direction.

With the scent of autumn flowers, out on the open prairie, the air is sweet, and over the bluffs along the rolling Missouri a smoke-like haze is settling. This is the month of silence, and we hear none of the bird trills that cheered us in the doubtful days of spring. The merry tinkle of the meadow lark and the twittering of the bobolink that rippled so continuously over our June pasture lands is heard no more. The crow caws lugubriously as he winnows his way indolently over the parched fields, and the jay lets out an occasional strident squawk, but the noise of the bluebird only falls now in fragments from the skies, mournful as the patter of falling leaves.

The radiant little gold finch tilts in silence on the latest blossoms and fluffy tufts of the dusty thistles, and the yellowhammer cackles discordantly as he undulates from ant hill to ant hill, or from tree to tree. The lute and bells of the brown thrush and yellow breasted warbler frets and clucks in a way befitting the dying days of summer.

The windbreaks and hedges are dark and somber in their overripe leafage, and out of the twilight of the woodside and along deserted country roads the faded disks of the wild sunflowers glow dimly in the refulgence of charming constellations of hardy asters. The meadowsides are jaunty with the sunshorn fringes of the goldenrod, willow herb, wild hemp, iron and rag weed, and in low hollows and out-of-the-way crannies droop the heavy clusters of deep purple alderberries, in whose inky juice the robin and the grouse are wont to dye their bills.

The Rawhide trails dimly away out of the weedy ripples gilded with the inverted flame of late cardinals that blaze along the sedgy shore. The brown and frowsy muskrat prowls sluggishly about or sits idly for hours on bar or bank dreaming away the melancholy hours that should be full of activity for the bitter days that are to come. But he will be up and doing betimes. When the frosts begin to toughen the tule stems, then will the little brown clown of the swamp get busy in earnest, and their dome-shaped castles will begin in earnest, and their along all our low and swailly water ways.

All too brief, however are these sweet autumn days, and the chicken hunter must soon get busy or miss his opportunity altogether. The closing day comes with November 30, but it is only through October that one can count upon anything like satisfactory shooting. They will quickly pass. Already there are many signs of the approaching bleak period.

The black and orange of the oriole is no longer seen as he flashes athwart the deep green foliage, but instead a tinge of russet and gold is stealing over hill and dale. The redwing blackbird is clucking his sad farewell, southward bound, overhead, while the sunflower petals make a tawny baldrick beneath dessicating stalks and the acidulous berries of the medicinal sumac are darkening among their fire-speckled leaves along the roadside.

Jack Frost has begun his first shy encroachment upon all summer life, and yet the great banks of leaves, of weeds and tangly undergrowth in ravine and dank creek bed, have not assumed that ascetical air that always comes with the true hunting season. We feel that the dawn of hazy autumn is upon us; we see it in the keen atmosphere which mantels eventide and morning. And more than all, a new alertness has come over the old settler. He seems to know that the time has come when it is lawful to go after birds. Can it be that his super-sensitive nostrils have sniffed it in the nipping airs that come in from the distant open, where the prairie grass waves in yellow billows, and, together with the golden stubble, the flecked plum thicket and bedraggled wild grape vine, on whose tendrils hang bunches of tiny blue gobules, amidst fading streamers of emerald, the old hen grouse and her fully grown chicks love to disport themselves these frosty morning and evenings!

Who can tell?

But, even acknowledging all the wondrous graces of rosy June, is there a month in the calendar that can compare with "brown October in russet mantle clad?" Her days are one endless, gorgeous pageant, with a clean, clear atmosphere, bright sun, harvest moon, and enchanting radiance of woods, field and swail, with the undaunted blue jay flashing in and out from the painted foliage like trenchant steel and the ke-uck! ke-uck! of the yellowhammer waking every emotion in the sportsman's bosom, out in the October season's airs. It is the supremest ecstasy of exhilaration and the triumph in life.

And no fairer land is there anywhere in October than Nebraska, which spreads out before you like the long swells of an ocean, with the range of vision broken by little valleys, clumps of box alder and slim, cottonwood, dwarf oak, and walnut. Now you command a marvelous view overlooking a great stretch of prairie, field and mottes of wood, with blue lakes basking in the mellow haze, and the silvery sinuosities of a stream flashing here and there - ranch houses, too, and fields and fields of yellow fodder, and tan stubble, herds of cattle and hay and straw stacks galore. In marked contrast to all this kaleidoscope of prisms are patches of intense green, where the new verdure has sprung up from the summer fallows, more verdant than in the revivifying springtime, and the mounds of aftermath out from the carpet of the green valleys, and the fields of sober brown or rich black soil where the farmer has turned fresh furrows in the back setting.

Occasionally we strike deep cuts which shut out all view, and presently open again, like the slides of a stereopticon, and the new view is likely to be as different as can be from the one just seen.

To be sure, these same broad prairies of ours, in the lovely month of June, when the world everywhere is in bloom, were a picture beyond compare one would think, when they were wild, The early summer landscape was resplendent with banks and beds and broad acres of modest wild flowers. The harebell, columbine, wild rose, verbena, larkspur, fringed gentian, sweet pea, violet, iris and the white strawberry blossom, all of delicate colors, and then later in the season come the bright scarlets, yellow, and royal purple, with all the tribes of daisy and chrysanthemum springing from sward and spreading like tapestries over the odorous earth. But finally, in consonance with the sentimental and time of mellow ripening and fruition, October touches each forest leaf and branch with the dyes which the summer flowers were fain to use, and the deft finger of the hoar frost traces out the lines and blends them; and the gentle breath of the Indian summer kindles them into a universal glow which views with the tints of gorgeous sunset. Until I beheld this Nebraska land scape I had no conception of the intensity of autumn colors. Back in Ohio the foundation tints are yellow. There are more beeches, butternuts, hickories and varieties of ash and elm which yield the different tones of yellow; but in this prairie state, oaks of various kinds predominate, but all of a dwarf kind, but they become almost as brilliant as the sumac or crimson maple. I did not suppose that the usually sombre little oak could assume such a deep and vivid red. It is redder than the woodbine. Upon this royal ground of color is laid the exquisite embroidery of the woods in inimitable combinations and arrangement; bouquets of madder and maroon, carmine, pink, Indian red, lake, gamboge, saffron, yellow, green, old gold and amber, with their intermediate lines, and all the browns, russets, drabs and greys, the dead shades and neutral tints which pertain to trunks and stems - poplar, elm, maple, basswoods, ash, hazel, dogwood, oak, and cottonwood and along the margins of the winding rivers, in the laps of the inclosing swails, on the lake side and projecting points of land, in clusters, groves, and wide expanse of windbreak, everywhere is spread the all pervading glow which can only emanate from the brush of one great Master.

The valleys of the Platte, the Elkhorn and the Niobrara, although devoid of any big woodlands, have plenty of trees and plenty of verdure. When you gaze along any of these in October, you behold an elysian aisle. The gleaming streams of silver, with their sandy bars and pebbly shores, wooded islands, tangled amidst vines and creepers, with every variety of outline and configuration. Ragged labyrinths of plum and crab and oak and cottonwood, the perdu of cottontail and quail, of robin, cheewink, fox-sparrow and vesper thrush, beautiful as the beds of coleus and acaranthus, flaring frondage more exquisite than orchids, no space without its gorgeous adornment; and thus it is. Nebraska's fair vales are beyond the power of pencil to describe, and blessed are they who are privileged to abide therein and to roam over and gaze upon them.

  • It's well on hunting time,
  • Wild rice has turned to gold,
  • The fox squirrel's in his prime
  • And the nights are getting cold.
  • The wild ducks winging with the breeze,
  • That whirls from northern skies,
  • While far above the fading trees
  • The hurrying goose cries.
  • Dead leaves are falling on the stream,
  • Which cuts the gray sandhills,
  • And mellow moonlight casts its beams
  • On all the trout-filled rills,
  • The wild-eyed pickerel turns his eyes
  • Toward the swimming bait,
  • And fiercely do the black bass rise,
  • Both early morn and late.
  • The muskrat has begun to prowl
  • And the turtle dove to pack,
  • And penetrating's the farm dog's howl
  • Along the coyote's track,
  • Any you happy gunners, far and wide,
  • The wild things call to you,
  • Where marshes gleen and rivers glide
  • There is glorious sport in view.
  • So light the fires and let 'em blaze,
  • Beneath the moon and stars,
  • And revel in these autumn days,
  • Where little comes that mars.
  • - Sam Richmond.