Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

May 25, 1919. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 54(34): 8-N.

Many Vagrant Thoughts That Come With the Summer Days

By Sandy Griswold.

Jocund June. The era of bird songs. The grand feathered orchestra has been tuning up for a month, under discouraging circumstances, but is now happily in fullest chord with the mellow breezes rustling amidst the woody foliage and over the grasses and the flowers of meadowland and prairie, and we know that the days of the loveliest of all months is upon us.

Of all our gay little songsters, and we have a large variety of the most exquisite, and in all the world's medley of delightful warblers, there is none dearer, busier and more continuously devoted to keep the sensuous air tinkling with his melody - than that cosy little linnet, the song sparrow.

He comes early and stays late and begins his chansons without any particular preliminary practice, when only the quacking and honking wild fowl and the disconsolate crows are the choristers of the feathered band with sufficient temerity to make a sound. From the very start he is a veritable paroxysm of song and he will continue to sell his little pale yellow throat in the same tuneful shower that first began to cheer us in the blustering days of March. This tiny field sparrow is a dear feathered mite, and as I have so often mentioned in these columns, is never silent from early March to late November. His liquid trill outlasts all rivaling orchestras of the woodland and the prairie. He is one of the first of all the feathered songsters to come up from the southland in the variable weather of the early vernal season and enlivens our dingy and uninviting fields even before the hardiest weeds have revived into the faintest show of life. Pretty, sweet-voiced, lemon-breasted linnet, he is as dear to me, if not dearer, than even bluebird or robin. Probably because he has been my companion on so many quests for jacksnipe, in the roystering days of King Martius, through the midsummer plover season, October and November days on chicken and quail, clear down to the last cold days of early winter in a blind for greenwings and mallard.

And the mention of this little bird always make me dream of the hunting days that have gone, and long for those I hope are to come.

It seems now but a day since I was out at Three Springs - Charlie Metz' incomparable ducking preserve - or up on the gurgling Loup with my hallowed old partner, Sam Richmond, and the memory fills my heart with both thanksgiving and sadness.

Ah's me! Many and many is the time I have been there, and in the waiting days it is really next to the real thing to recall the other days of ravishing joy; days when the cares of business and the perplexities of life were laid aside and forgotten. My thoughts are ever going back to days on the marsh, on the lake and in the woods and fields, that will linger long as a cherished remembrance, not because I shot so remarkably well or scored such a large bag of ducks, quail or chicken, for I have long ceased to measure my joys by the dimensions of my skill or catch. The early drive in the clear, frosty morning, genial comradeship - good old Con Young, Bill Simeral, Ray Welch or many of the others I could recall; the inevitable joyous reception at our destination, fine working dogs, reasonable number of chicken and fair duck shooting, all contributed to the joys of the outing.

But of all my hunting days, and they have been many, none have been more pleasant or filled with life-prolonging and beautifying qualities, than those spent with Sam Richmond in his little walled tent upon the romantic Loup. So far as the therapeutic value and the delight of such hunting and fishing outings as the real elements of modern life is concerned, of course, I am a confirmed and inveterate advocate. If this life by the river where the mallards fly in the morning and the evening, and where the plaintive call of the cuckoo drops the curtain of darkness, and the big horned owl wakes the tremors of the night, with such wholesome comradery as I always enjoy, does not insure the extreme longevity that most of us crave, it is absolutely certain to enhance the joy of living for whatever term of life each one of us may be allotted. At that, to live happily while we do live, is much more to be desired than to achieve even the centenarian mark. Many men, perhaps most men, do not wish to live into helpless senility. The impressions gathered from the extremely aged are not as a rule cheerful or alluring. It is not supposed that the average valetudinarian is apprehensive that real old age may bring to him any such measure of helplessness as will make him absolutely wretched. If he does, he does not think in the proper way. Most men who are ambitious to live long have no thought of poverty to terrify them; but there are other features of the old man's lot against which the most ample means and most careful forethought cannot make provisions. As the span of human life is now measured, he who attains his four score and ten is an exception to the rule and long outlives his fellows. Old age means isolation, and isolation means loneliness. Relatives, friends, associates of the campfire and the duck hunt, have passed on. The relationships which make life worth living have been sundered by the inexorable hand of time.

Much more, the real good thing that striving for the attainment of extreme old age is to live well while we live, and get the most of life as we go along, doing the work at hand, meeting the duties of the hour, and not neglecting my injunction to get our share of the joys of the camp on the river's shore with our beloved old pals of the hammerless.

The above thoughts remind me of a pathetic letter I received some time ago from an old, but not infrequent comrade up at the Cherry county lakes in the closing years of the last decade. Having some years since passed the age allotted to mortals, he went on to say, I but feel that the rod and gun must be laid aside for younger heads and more supple limbs. But my interest in camp life and outdoor recreations has not waned, and one of my sources of comfort during "shut-in" days, and particularly now in the sweet spring season, is found in your Sunday page of the World-Herald, where I again go through many past experiences - some pleasant and some not pleasant - in forest camps and ducking boats and blinds, with good guides and genial companions. Alas! how few remain this side the stream, and every year their number is growing less.

In thus reviewing the past those experiences that were interwoven with the most toil, exposure and toughness generally, are the ones most deeply impressed on memory's tablet and often spoken of. Where is the sportsman who has passed safely through deadly peril or laborious toil who was not ever after glad of the experience?

Still, there are many "red-letter" days, when sky, air, water and woodland were in such perfect harmony with themselves and with our physical and mental condition, that to live was a luxury - all care and worry forgotten while thus floating on life's current.

And the stories told, and those remaining to be told, remind me that the literature pertaining to sports of land and water may be divided in a general way into two phases, that which is descriptive in its character and that which is speculative or controversial.

In descriptive writing the success of the writer depends on his skill in arranging his fund of incident pleasingly and sensibly; in drawing clear word pictures, and in infusing a certain spirit and interest which can only emanate from his own individual genius. He assumes that all will look at his word pictures from his own viewpoint, as he is quite warranted in assuming. Flowing thus unopposed that writing, if good, is a pleasure to its author and to its readers.

But in the other phase of literature pertaining to land and water, the discussional, each party to it is almost certain to have his own personal viewpoint, which, in many cases, he partially or wholly, according to the opposition, is bent on maintaining more as a defender than as an impartial demonstrator.

In a debate or controversy the men who can dispassionately, logically and pertinently confine themselves to the real issue are a small percentage of the whole. As a rule, men who can so discuss a pet hobby are naturally of a equable temperament and broad views, or who have had long continued, rigid discipline in dealing with their fellow men, or both combined. Discussions, conducted courteously and impartially, cannot fail to be both pleasing and improving.

Controversy in field matters should be conducted with special reference to the gentlemanly amenities, for as a class sportsmen are gentlemen. Controversy as conoueted in the struggle for existence in everyday life, wherein each one more or less directly endeavors to surpass his fellows, is out of place in matters of sport. In everyday life the competition is unceasing. In the world of sport all should meet on a common ground of good fellowship and common good.

This leads me to observe that the reports made once in a while by zoological societies and other organizations in the interest of the natural history study are valuable in a way, but one cannot read them without smelling book dust where the pure air of out of doors ought to be, and feeling that they are based upon scattered and somewhat insignificant details, rather than upon the larger and generally more influential facts of nature and life. This is especially true as to what has been done in the matter of accounting for the disappearance of certain kinds of birds, the golden-eyed duck, the golden plover, the Esquimo curlew and others. But the sportsman, he who gets out in the heart of nature's wilds and sees and hears and reasons for himself, is the man to deduct truthful conclusions. He knows that it is not the gun that has been the main agent of these birds' vanquishment, and will tell you the farmer's drains, the sluice ways, irrigating ditches and filled-in swails, whereby vast acres of watery feeding grounds have been made dry, have killed countless numbers and forever driven away the rest. Fifty years ago the sloppy prairies and queachy bog lands immediately around Omaha were the haunts of incomputable swarms of migratory wild fowl, cranes, geese, ducks and plover. Now but precisely few are seen, not because they have been shot off, but because these resting and feeding grounds have been made unavailable. Even the smallest sandpipers, killdeers, bitterns and inferior waders, never much shot at are just as scarce, and for the same reason. Hundreds of small pond and streams, once their favorite banquet places, are now as dry as a bone and there is no reason for the birds to ever again visit them.