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THE GALA DAYS OF BIRDS
MIGRATION is over, and the great influx of birds which last month filled every tree and bush is now distributed over field and wood, from our dooryard and lintel vine to the furthermost limits of northern, exploration; birds, perhaps, having discovered the pole long years ago. Now every feather and plume is at its brightest and full development; for must not the fastidious females be sought and won?
And now the great struggle of the year is at hand, the supreme moment for which thousands of throats have been vibrating with whispered rehearsals of trills and songs, and for which the dangers that threaten the acquisition of bright colours and long, inconvenient plumes and ornaments have been patiently undergone. Now, if all goes well and his song is clear, if his crest and gorgeous splashes of tints and shades are fresh and shining with the gloss of health, then the feathered lover may hope, indeed, that the little brown mate may look with favour upon dance, song, or antic — and the home is become a reality. In some instances this home is for only one short season, when the two part, probably forever; but in other cases the choice is for life.
But if his rival is stronger, handsomer, and — victorious, what then? Alas, the song dies in his throat, plumes hang crestfallen, and the disconsolate creature must creep about through tangles and brush, watching from a distance the nest-building, the delights of home life which fate has forbidden. But the poor bachelor need not by any means lose hope; for on all sides dangers threaten his happy rival — cats, snakes, jays, hawks, owls, and boys. Hundreds of birds must pay for their victory with their lives, and then the once discarded suitors are quickly summoned by the widows; and these step-fathers, no whit chagrined at playing second fiddle, fill up the ranks, and work for the young birds as if they were their own offspring.
There is an unsolved mystery about the tragedies and comedies that go on every spring. Usually every female bird has several suitors, of which one is accepted. When the death of this mate occurs, within a day or two another is found; and this may be repeated a dozen times in succession. Not only this, but when a female bird is killed, her mate is generally able at once somewhere, somehow, to find another to take her place. Why these unmated males and females remain single until they are needed is something that has never been explained.
The theme of the courtship of birds is marvellously varied and comparatively little understood.
Who would think that when our bald eagle, of national fame, seeks to win his mate, his ardour takes the form of an undignified galloping dance, round and round her from branch to branch! Hardly less ridiculous — to our eyes — is the elaborate performance of our most common woodpecker, the flicker, or high-hole. Two or three male birds scrape and bow and pose and chatter about the demure female, outrageously undignified as compared with their usual behaviour. They do everything save twirl their black moustaches!
In the mating season some birds have beauties which are ordinarily concealed. Such is the male ruby-crowned kinglet, garbed in gray and green, the two sexes identical, except for the scarlet touch on the crown of the male, which, at courting time, he raises and expands. Even the iris of some birds changes and brightens in colour at the breeding season; while in others there appear about the base of the bill horny parts, which in a month or two fall off. The scarlet coat of the tanager is perhaps solely for attracting and holding the attention of the female, as before winter every feather is shed, the new plumage being of a dull green, like that of its mate and its young.
As mystery confronts us everywhere in nature, so we confess ourselves baffled when we attempt to explain the most wonderful of all the attributes of bird courtship — song. Birds have notes to call to one another, to warn of danger, to express anger and fear; but the highest development of their vocal efforts seems to be devoted to charming the females. If birds have a love of music, then there must be a marvellous diversity of taste among them, ranging all the way from the shrieking, strident screams of the parrots and macaws to the tender pathos of the wood pewee and the hermit thrush.
If birds have not some appreciation of sweet sounds, then we must consider the many different songs as mere by-products, excess of vitality which expresses itself in results, in many cases, strangely æsthetic and harmonious. A view midway is indefinable as regards the boundaries covered by each theory. How much of the peacock's train or of the thrush's song is appreciated by the female? How much is by-product merely?
In these directions a great field lies open to the student and lover of birds; but however we decide for ourselves in regard to the exact meaning and evolution of song, and what use it subserves among the birds, we all admit the effect and pleasure it produces in ourselves. A world without the song of birds is greatly lacking — such is a desert, where even the harsh croak of a raven is melody.
Perhaps the reason why the songs of birds give more lasting pleasure than many other things is that sound is so wonderfully potent to recall days and scenes of our past life. Like a sunset, the vision that a certain song brings is different to each one of us.
To me, the lament of the wood pewee brings to mind deep, moist places in the Pennsylvania backwoods; the crescendo of the oven bird awakens memories of the oaks of the Orange mountains; ;when a loon or an olive-sided flycatcher or a white-throat calls, the lakes and forests of Nova Scotia come vividly to mind; the cry of a sea-swallow makes real again the white beaches of Virginia; to me a cardinal has in its song the feathery lagoons of Florida's Indian River, while the shriek of a macaw and its antithesis, the silvery, interlacing melodies of the solitaire, spell the farthest barrancas of Mexico, with the vultures ever circling overhead, and the smoke clouds of the volcano in the distance.
So sweet, so sweet the calling of the thrushes,
The calling, cooing, wooing, everywhere;
So sweet the water's song through reeds and rashes,
The plover's piping note, now here, now there.
A TURTLE, waddling his solitary way along some watercourse, attracts little attention apart from that aroused by his clumsy, grotesque shape; yet few who look upon him are able to give offhand even a bare half-dozen facts about the humble creature. Could they give any information at all, it would probably be limited to two or three usages to which his body is put — such as soup, mandolin picks, and combs.
In the northeastern part of our own country we may look for no fewer than eight species of turtles which are semi-aquatic, living in or near ponds and streams, while another, the well-known box tortoise, confines its travels to the uplands and woods.
There are altogether about two hundred different kinds of turtles, and they live in all except the very cold countries of the world. Australia has the fewest and North and Central America the greatest number of species. Evolutionists can tell us little or nothing of the. origin of these creatures, for as far back in geological ages as they are found fossil (a matter of a little over ten million years), all are true turtles, not half turtles and half something else. Crocodiles and alligators, with their hard leathery coats, come as near to them as do any living creatures, and when we see a huge snapping turtle come out of the water and walk about on land, we cannot fail to be reminded of the fellow with the armoured back.
Turtles are found on the sea and on land, the marine forms more properly deserving the name of turtles; tortoises being those living on land or in fresh water. We shall use the name turtle as significant of the whole group. The most natural method of classifying these creatures is by the way the head and neck are drawn back under the shell; whether the head is turned to one side, or drawn straight back, bending the neck into the letter S shape.
The skull of a turtle is massive, and some have thick, false roofs on top of the usual brain box.
The "house" or shell of a turtle is made up of separate pieces of bone, a central row along the back and others arranged around on both sides. These are really pieces of the skin of the back changed to bone. Our ribs are directly under the skin of the back, and if this skin should harden into a bone-like substance, the ribs would lie flat against it, and this is the case with the ribs of turtles. So when we marvel that the ribs of a turtle are on the outside of its body, a second thought will show us that this is just as true of us as it is of these reptiles.
This hardening of the skin has brought about some interesting changes in the body of the turtle.
In all the higher animals, from fishes up to man, a backbone is of the greatest importance not only in carrying the nerves and blood-vessels, but in supporting the entire body. In turtles alone, the string of vertebræ is unnecessary, the shell giving all the support needed. So, as Nature seldom allows unused tissues or organs to remain, these bones along the back become, in many species, reduced to a mere thread.
The pieces of bone or horn which go to make up the shell, although so different in appearance from the skin, yet have the same life-processes. Occasionally the shell moults or peels, the outer part coming off in great flakes. Each piece grows by the addition of rings of horn at the joints, and (like the rings of a tree) the age of turtles, except of very old ones, can be estimated by the number of circles of horn on each piece. The rings are very distinct in species which live in temperate climates. Here they are compelled to hibernate during the winter, and this cessation of growth marks the intervals between each ring. In tropical turtles the rings are either absent or indistinct. It is to this mode of growth that the spreading of the initials which are cut into the shell is due, just as letters carved on the trunks of trees in time broaden and bulge outward.
The shell has the power of regeneration, and when a portion is crushed or torn away the injured parts are gradually cast off, and from the surrounding edges a new covering of horn grows out. One third of the entire shell has been known to be thus replaced.
Although so slow in their locomotion and actions, turtles. have well-developed senses. They can see very distinctly, and the power of smell is especially acute, certain turtles being very discriminating in the matter of food. They are also very sensitive to touch, and will react to the least tap on their shells. Their hearing, however, is more imperfect, but as during the mating season they have tiny, piping voices, this sense must be of some use.
Water tortoises can remain beneath the surface for hours and even days at a time. In addition to the lungs there are two small sacs near the tail which allow the animal to use the oxygen in the water as an aid to breathing.
All turtles lay eggs, the shells of which are white and generally of a parchment-like character. They are deposited in the ground or in the sand, and hatch either by the warmth of the decaying vegetation or by the heat of the sun. In temperate countries the eggs remain through the winter, ,and the little turtles do not emerge until the spring. The eggs of turtles are very good to eat, and the oil contained in them is put to many uses. In all the countries which they inhabit, young turtles have a hard time of it; for thousands of them are devoured by storks, alligators, and fishes. Even old turtles have many enemies, not the least strange being jaguars, which watch for them, turn them on their backs with a flip of the paw, and eat them at leisure — on the half shell, as it were!
Leathery turtles — which live in the sea — have been reported weighing over a thousand pounds! This species is very rare, and a curious circumstance is that only very large adults and very small baby individuals have been seen, the turtles of all intermediate growths keeping in the deep ocean out of view.
Snapping turtles are among the fiercest creatures in the world. On leaving the egg their first instinct is to open their mouths and bite at something. They feed on almost anything, but when in captivity they sometimes refuse to eat, and have been known to go a year without food, showing no apparent ill effects. One method which they employ in capturing their food is interesting. A snapping turtle will lie quietly at the bottom of a pond or lake, looking like an old water-soaked log with a branch its head and neck — at one end. From the tip of the tongue the creature extrudes two small filaments of a pinkish colour which wriggle about, bearing a perfect resemblance to the small round worms of which fishes are so fond. Attracted by these, fishes swim up to grasp the squirming objects and are engulfed by the cruel mouth of the angler. Certain marine turtles have long-fringed appendages on the head and neck, which, waving about, serve a similar purpose.
The edible terrapin has, in many places, become very rare; so that thousands of them are kept and bred in enclosed areas, or "crawls," as they are called. This species is noted for its curious disposition, and it is often captured by being attracted by some unusual sound.
The tortoise-shell of commerce is obtained from the shell of the hawksbill turtle, the plates of Mich, being very thin, are heated and welded together until of the required thickness. The age to which turtles live has often been exaggerated, but they are certainly the longest lived of all living creatures. Individuals from the Galapagos Island are estimated to be over four hundred years old. When, in a zoological garden, we see one of these creatures and study his aged, aged look, as he slowly and deliberately munches the cabbage which composes his food, we can well believe that such a being saw the light of day before Columbus made his memorable voyage.
He's his own landlord, his own tenant; stay
Long as he will, he dreads no Quarter Day.
Himself he boards and lodges; both invites
And feasts himself; sleeps with himself o'nights.
He spares the upholsterer trouble to procure
Chattels; himself is his own furniture,
Knock when you will, — he's sure to be at home.
THERE are little realms all around of which many of us know nothing. Take, for example, some marsh within à half-hour's trolley ride of any of our cities or towns. Select one where cat-tails and reeds abound. Mosquitoes and fear of malaria keep these places free from invasion by humankind; but if we select some windy day we may laugh them both to scorn, and we shall be well repaid for our trip. The birds frequenting these places are so seldom disturbed that they make only slight effort to conceal their nests, and we shall find plenty of the beautiful bird cradles rocking with every passing breeze.
A windy day will also reveal an interesting feature of the marsh. The soft, velvety grass, which abounds in such places, is so pliant and yielding that it responds to every breath, and each approaching wave of air is heralded by an advancing curl of the grass. At our feet these grass-waves intersect and recede, giving a weird sensation, as if the ground were moving, or as if we were walking on the water itself. Where the grass is longer, the record of some furious gale is permanently fixed — swaths and ripples seeming to roll onward, or to break into green foam. The simile of a "painted ocean" is perfectly carried out. There is no other substance, not even sand, which simulates more exactly the motions of water than this grass.
In the nearest clump of reeds we notice several red-winged blackbirds, chattering nervously. A magnificent male bird, black as night, and with scarlet epaulets burning on his shoulders, swoops at us, while his inconspicuous brownish consorts vibrate above the reeds, some with grubs, some empty mouthed. They are invariable indexes of what is below them. We may say with perfect assurance that in that patch of rushes are two nests, one with young; beyond are three others, all with eggs.
We find beautiful structures, firm and round, woven of coarse grasses inside and dried reeds without, hung between two or three supporting stalks, or, if it is a fresh-water marsh, sheltered by long, green fern fronds. The eggs are worthy of their cradles — pearly white in colour, with scrawls and blotches of dark purple at the larger end — hieroglyphics which only the blackbirds can translate.
In another nest we find newly hatched young, looking like large strawberries, their little naked bodies of a vivid orange colour, with scanty gray tufts of down here and there. Not far away is a. nest, overflowing with five young birds ready to fly, which scramble out at our approach and start boldly off; but as their weak wings give out, they soon come to grief. We catch one and find that it has most delicate colours, resembling its mother in being striped brown and black, although its breast and under parts are of an unusually beautiful tint-a kind of salmon pink. I never saw this shade elsewhere in Nature.
Blackbirds are social creatures, and where we find one nest, four or five others may be looked for near by. The red-winged blackbird is a mormon in very fact, and often a solitary male bird may be seen guarding a colony of three or four nests, each with an attending female. A sentiment of altruism seems indeed not unknown, as I have seen a female give a grub to one of a hungry nestful, before passing on to brood her own eggs, yet unhatched.
While looking for the blackbirds' nests we shall come across numerous round, or oval, masses of dried weeds and grass — mice homes we may think them; and the small, winding entrance concealed on one side tends to confirm this opinion. Several will be empty, but when in one our fingers touch six or eight tiny eggs, our mistake will be apparent. Long-billed marsh wrens are the architects, and so fond are they of building that frequently three or four unused nests are constructed before the little chocolate jewels are deposited.
If we sit quietly for a few moments, one of the owners, overcome by wren curiosity, will appear, clinging to a reed stalk and twitching his pert, upturned tail, the badge of his family. Soon he springs up into the air and, bubbling a jumble of liquid notes, sinks back into the recesses of the cat-tails. Another and another repeat this until the marsh rings with their little melodies.
If we seat ourselves and watch quietly we may possibly behold an episode that is not unusual. The joyous songs of the little wrens suddenly give place to cries of fear and anger; and this hubbub increases until at last we see a sinister ripple flowing through the reeds, marking the advancing head of a water snake.
The evil eyes of the serpent are bent upon the nearest nest, and toward it he makes his way, followed and beset by all the wrens in the vicinity. Slowly the scaly creature pushes himself up on the reeds; and as they bend under his weight he makes his way the more easily along them to the nest. His head is pushed in at the entrance, but an instant later the snake twines downward to the water. The nest was empty. Again he seeks an adjoining nest, and again is disappointed; and now, a small fish attracting his attention, he goes off in swift pursuit, leaving untouched the third nest in sight, that containing the precious eggs. Thus the apparently useless industry of the tiny wrens has served an invaluable end, and the tremulous chorus is again timidly taken up — little hymns of thanksgiving we may imagine them now.
These and many others are sights which a half-hour's tramp, without even wetting our shoes, may show us. Before we leave, hints of more deeply hidden secrets of the marsh may perhaps come to us. A swamp sparrow may show by its actions that its nest is not far away; from the depths of a ditch jungle the clatter of some rail comes faintly to our ears, and the distant croak of a night heron reaches us from its feeding-grounds, guarded by the deeper waters.
And what if behind me to westward the wall of the woods stands high?
The world lies east: how ample, the marsh and the sea and the sky!
A league and a league of marsh-grass, waist-high, broad in the blade.
Oh, what is abroad in the marsh and terminal sea?
Somehow my soul seems suddenly free
From the weighing of fate and the sad discussion of sin.
OF THE OCEAN
WE are often held spellbound by the majesty of mountains, and indeed a lofty peak forever capped with snow, or pouring forth smoke and ashes, is impressive beyond all terrestrial things. But the ocean yields to nothing in its grandeur, in its age, in its ceaseless movement, and the question remains forever unanswered, "Who shall sound the mysteries of the seal" Before the most ancient of mountains rose from the heart of the earth, the waves of the sea rolled as now, and though the edges of the continents shrink and expand, bend into bays or stretch out into capes, always through all the ages the sea follows and laps with ripples or booms with breakers unceasingly upon the shore.
Whether considered from the standpoint of the scientist, the mere curiosity of the tourist, or the keen delight of the enthusiastic lover of Nature, the shore of the sea — its sands and waters, its ever-changing skies and moods — is one of the most interesting spots in the world. The very bottom of the deep bays near shore — dark and eternally silent, prisoned under the restless waste of waters — is thickly carpeted with strange and many-coloured forms of animal and vegetable life. But the beaches and tide-pools over which the moon urged tides hold sway in their ceaseless rise and fall, teem with marvels of Nature's handiwork, and every day are restocked and replanted with new living objects, both arctic and tropical offerings of each heaving tidal pulse.
Here on the northeastern shores of our continent one may spend days of leisure or delightful study among the abundant and ever changing variety of wonderful living creatures. It is not unlikely that the enjoyment and absolute novelty of this new world may enable one to look on these as some of the most pleasant days of life. I write from the edge of the restless waters of Fundy, but any rock-strewn shore will duplicate the marvels.
At high tide the surface of the Bay is unbroken by rock or shoal, and stretches glittering in the sunlight from the beach at one's feet to where the New Brunswick shore is just visible, appearing like a low bluish cloud on the horizon. At times the opposite shore is apparently brought nearer and made more distinct by a mirage, which inverts it, together with any ships which are in sight. A brig may be seen sailing along keel upward, in the most matter-of-fact way. The surface may anon be torn by those fearful squalls for which Fundy is noted, or, calm as a mirror, reflect the blue sky with an added greenish tinge, troubled only by the gentle alighting of a gull, the splash of a kingfisher or occasional osprey, as these dive for their prey, or the ruffling which shows where a school of mackerel is passing. This latter sign always sends the little sailing dories hurrying out, where they beat back and forth, like shuttles travelling across a loom, and at each turn a silvery struggling form is dragged into the boat.
A little distance along the shore the sandy beach ends and is replaced by huge bare boulders, scattered and piled in the utmost confusion. Back of these are scraggly spruces, with branches which have been so long blown landwards that they have bent and grown altogether on that side, — permanent weather-vanes of Fundy's storms. The very soil in which they began life was blown away, and their gnarled weather-worn roots hug the rocks, clutching every crevice as a drowning man would grasp an oar. On the side away from the bay two or three long, thick roots stretch far from each tree to the nearest earth-filled gully, sucking what scanty nourishment they can, for strength to withstand the winter's gales yet another year or decade. Beach-pea and sweet marsh lavender tint the sand, and stunted fringed orchids gleam in the coarse grass farther inland. High up among the rocks, where there is scarcely a handful of soil, delicate harebells sway and defy the blasts, enduring because of their very pliancy and weakness.
If we watch awhile we will see a line of blackish seaweed and wet sand appearing along the edge of the water, showing that the tide has turned and began to recede. In an hour it has ebbed a considerable distance, and if we clamber down over the great weather-worn rocks the hardy advance guard of that wonderful world of life under the water is seen. Barnacles whiten the top of every rock which is reached by the tide, although the water may cover them only a short time each day. But they flourish here in myriads, and the shorter the chance they have at the salt water the more frantically their little feathery feet clutch at the tiny food particles which float around them. These thousands of tiny turreted castles are built so closely together that many are pressed out of shape, paralleling in shape as in substance the inorganic crystals of the mineral kingdom. The valved doors are continually opening and partly closing, and if we listen quietly we can hear a perpetual shuss! shuss! Is it the creaking of the tiny hinges? As the last receding wave splashes them, they shut their folding doors over a drop or two and remain tightly closed, while perhaps ten hours of sunlight bake them, or they glisten in the moonlight for the same length of time, ready at the first touch of the returning water to open wide and welcome it.
The thought of their life history brings to mind how sadly they retrogress as they grow, hatching as minute free-swimming creatures like tiny lobsters, and gradually changing to this plant-like life, sans eyes, sans head, sans most everything except a stomach and a few pairs of feathery feet to kick food into it. A few pitiful traces of nerves are left them. What if there were enough ganglia to enable them to dream of their past higher life, in the long intervals of patient waiting!
A little lower down we come to the zone of mussels, — hanging in clusters like some strange sea-fruit. Each is attached by strands of thin silky cables, so tough that they often defy our utmost efforts to tear a specimen away. How secure these creatures seem, how safe from all harm, and yet they have enemies which make havoc among them. At high tide fishes come and crunch them, shells and all, and multitudes of carnivorous snails are waiting to set their file-like tongues at work, which mercilessly drill through the lime shells, bringing death in a more subtle but no less certain form. Storms may tear away the support of these poor mollusks, and the waves dash them far out of the reach of the tides, while at low water, crows and gulls use all their ingenuity to get at their toothsome flesh.
There are no ant-hills in the sea, but when we turn over a large stone and see scores upon scores of small black shrimps scurrying around, the resemblance to those insects is striking. These little creatures quickly hitch away on their sides, getting out of sight in a remarkably short time.
The tide is going down rapidly, and following it step by step novel sights meet the eye at every turn, and we begin to realise that in this narrow strip, claimed alternately by sea and land, which would be represented on a map by the finest of hair-lines, there exists a complete world of animated life, comparing in variety and numbers with the life in that thinner medium, air. We climb over enormous boulders, so different in appearance that they would never be thought to consist of the same material as those higher up on the shore. These are masses of wave-worn rock, twenty or thirty feet across, piled in every imaginable position, and completely covered with a thick padding of seaweed. Their drapery of algæ hangs in festoons, and if we draw aside these submarine curtains, scenes from a veritable fairyland are disclosed. Deep pools of water, clear as crystal and icy cold, contain creatures both hideous and beautiful, sombre and iridescent, formless and of exquisite shape.
The sea-anemones first attract attention, showing as splashes of scarlet and salmon among the olive-green seaweed, or in hundreds covering the entire bottom of a pool with a delicately hued mist of waving tentacles. As the water leaves these exposed on the walls of the caves, they lose their plump appearance and, drawing in their wreath of tentacles, hang limp and shrivelled, resembling pieces of water-soaked meat as much as anything. Submerged in the icy water they are veritable animal-flowers. Their beauty is indeed well guarded, hidden by the overhanging seaweed in these caves twenty-five feet or more below high-water mark.
Here in these beautiful caverns we may make aquariums, and transplant as many animal-flowers as we wish. Wherever we place them their fleshy, snail-like foot spreads out, takes tight hold, and the creature lives content, patiently waiting for the Providence of the sea to send food to its many, wide-spread fingers.
Carpeted with pink algae and dainty sponges, draped with sea-lettuce like green tissue paper, decorated with strange corallines, these natural aquariums far surpass any of artificial make. Although the tide drives us from them sooner or later, we may return with the sure prospect of finding them refreshed and perhaps replenished with many new forms. For often some of the deep-water creatures are held prisoners in the lower tide-pools, as the water settles, somewhat as when the glaciers receded northward after the Ice Age there were left on isolated mountain peaks traces of the boreal fauna and flora.
If we are interested enough to watch our anemones we will find much entertainment. Let us return to our shrimp colonies and bring a handful to our pool. Drop one in the centre of an anemone and see how quickly it contracts. The tentacles bend over it exactly as the sticky hairs of the sun-dew plant close over a fly. The shrimp struggles for a moment and is then drawn downward out of sight. The birth of an anemone is well worth patient watching, and this may take place in several different ways. We may see a large individual with a number of tiny bunches on the sides of the body, and if we keep this one in a tumbler, before long these protuberances will be seen to develop a few tentacles and at last break off as perfect miniature anemones. Or again, an anemone may draw in its tentacles without apparent cause, and after a few minutes expand more widely than ever. Suddenly a movement of the month is seen, and it opens, and one, two, or even a half-dozen tiny anemones shoot forth. They turn and roll in the little spurt of water and gradually settle to the rock alongside of the mother. In a short time they turn right side up, expand their absurd little heads, and begin life for themselves. These animal "buds" may be of all sizes; some minute ones will be much less developed and look very unlike the parent. These are able to swim about for a while, and myriads of them may be born in an hour. Others, as we have seen, have tentacles and settle down at once.
Fishes, little and big, are abundant in the pools, darting here and there among the leathery fronds of "devils' aprons," cavernous-mouthed angler fish, roly-poly young lump-suckers, lithe butterfish, and many others.
Moving slowly through the pools are many beautiful creatures, some so evanescent that they are only discoverable by the faint shadows which they cast on the bottom, others suggest animated spheres of prismatic sunlight. These latter are tiny jelly-fish, circular hyaline masses of jelly with eight longitudinal bands, composed of many comb-like plates, along which iridescent waves of light continually play. The graceful appearance of these exquisite creatures is increased by two long, fringed tentacles streaming behind, drifting at full length or contracting into numerous coils. The fringe on these streamers is a series of living hairs — an aquatic cobweb, each active with life, and doing its share in ensnaring minute atoms of food for its owner. When dozens of these ctenophores (or comb-bearers) as they are called, glide slowly to and fro through a pool, the sight is not soon forgotten. To try to photograph them is like attempting to portray the substance of a sunbeam, but patience works wonders, and even a slightly magnified image of a living jelly is secured, which shows very distinctly all the details of its wonderfully simple structure; the pouch, suspended in the centre of the sphere, which does duty as a stomach; the sheaths into which the long tentacles may be so magically packed, and the tiny organ at the top of this living ball of spun glass, serving, with its minute weights and springs, as compass, rudder, and pilot to this little creature, which does not fear to pit its muscles of jelly against the rush and might of breaking waves.
Even the individual comb-plates or rows of oars are plainly seen, although, owing to their rapid motion, they appear to the naked eye as a single band of scintillating light. This and other magnified photographs were obtained by fastening the lens of a discarded bicycle lantern in a cone of paper blackened on the inside with shoe-blacking. With this crude apparatus placed in front of the lens of the camera, the evanescent beauties of these most delicate creatures were preserved.
Other equally beautiful forms of jelly-fish are balloon-shaped. These are Beröe, fitly named after the daughter of the old god Oceanus. They, like others of their family, pulsate through the water, sweeping gracefully along, borne on currents of their own making.
Passing to other inhabitants of the pools, we find starfish and sea-urchins everywhere abundant. Hunched-up groups of the former show where they are dining in their unique way on unfortunate sea-snails or anemones, protruding their whole stomach and thus engulfing their victim. The urchins strain and stretch with their innumerable sucker-feet, feeling for something to grasp, and in this laborious way pull themselves along. The mouth, with the five so-called teeth, is a conspicuous feature, visible at the centre of the urchin and surrounded by the greenish spines.
Some of the starfish are covered with long spines, others are nearly smooth. The colours are wonderfully varied, — red, purple, orange, yellow, etc.
The stages through which these prickly skinned animals pass, before they reach the adult state, are wonderfully curious, and only when they are seen under the microscope can they be fully appreciated. A bolting-cloth net drawn through some of the pools will yield thousands in many stages, and we can take eggs of the common starfish and watch their growth in tumblers of water. At first the egg seems nothing but a tiny round globule of jelly, but soon a dent or depression appears on one side, which becomes deeper and deeper until it extends to the centre of the egg-mass. It is as if we should take a round ball of putty and gradually press our finger into it. This pressed-in sac is a kind of primitive stomach and the entrance is used as a mouth. After this follows a marvellous succession of changes, form giving place to form, differing more in appearance and structure from the five-armed starfish than a caterpillar differs from a butterfly.
For example, when about eight days old, another mouth has formed and two series of delicate cilia or swimming hairs wind around the creature, by means of which it glides slowly through the water. The photographs of a starfish of this age show the stomach with its contents, a dark rounded mass near the lower portion of the organism. The vibrating bands which outline the tiny animal are also visible. The delicacy of structure and difficulty of preserving these young starfish alive make these pictures of particular value, especially as they were taken of the living forms swimming in their natural element. Each day and almost each hour adds to the complexity of the little animal, lung tentacles grow out and many other larval stages are passed through before the starfish shape is discernible within this curious "nurse" or living, changing egg. Then the entire mass, so elaborately evolved through so long a time, is absorbed and the little baby star sinks to the bottom to start on its new life, crawling around and over whatever happens in its path and feeding to repletion on succulent oysters. It can laugh at the rage of the oysterman, who angrily tears it in pieces, for "time heals all wounds" literally in the case of these creatures, and even if the five arms are torn apart, five starfish, small of arm but with healthy stomachs, will soon be foraging on the oyster bed.
But to return to our tide-pools. In the skimming net with the young starfish many other creatures are found, some so delicate and fragile that they disintegrate before microscope and camera can be placed in position. I lie at full length on a soft conch of seaweed with my face close to a tiny pool no larger than my hand. A few armadillo shells and limpets crawl on the bottom, but a frequent troubling of the water baffles me. I make sure my breath has nothing to do with it, but still it continues. At last a beam of sunshine lights up the pool, and as if a film had rolled from my eyes I see the cause of the disturbance. A sea-worm — or a ghost of one — is swimming about. Its large, brilliant eyes, long tentacles, and innumerable waving appendages are now as distinct as before they had been invisible. A trifling change in my position and all vanishes as if by magic. There seems not an organ, not a single part of the creature, which is not as transparent as the water itself. The fine streamers into which the paddles and gills are divided are too delicate to have existence in any but a water creature, and the least attempt to lift the animal from its element would only tear and dismember it, so I leave it in the pool to await the return of the tide.
Shrimps and prawns of many shapes and colours inhabit every pool. One small species, abundant on the alga, combines the colour changes of a chameleon with the form and manner of travel of a measuring-worm, looping along the fronds of seaweed or swimming with the same motion. Another variety of shrimp resembles the common wood-louse found under pieces of bark, but is most beautifully iridescent, glowing like an opal at the bottom of the pool. The curious little sea-spiders keep me guessing for a long time where their internal organs can be, as they consist of legs with merely enough body to connect these firmly together. The fact that the thread-like stomach and other organs send a branch into each of the eight legs explains the mystery and shows how far economy of space may go. Their skeleton-forms, having the appearance of eight straggling filaments of seaweed, are thus, doubtless, a great protection to these creatures from their many enemies. Other hobgoblin forms with huge probosces crawl slowly over the floors of the anemone caves, or crouch as the shadow of my hand or net falls upon them.
The larger gorgeously coloured and graceful sea-worms contribute not a small share to the beauty of Fundy tide-pools, swimming in iridescent waves through the water or waving their Medusa-head of crimson tentacles at the bottom among the sea-lettuce. These worms form tubes of mud for themselves, and the rows of hooks on each side of the body enable them to climb up and down in their dismal homes.
Much of the seaweed from deeper bottoms seems to be covered with a dense fur, which under a hand lens resolves into beautiful hydroids, — near relatives of the anemones and corals. Scientists have happily given these most euphonious names — Campanularia, Obelia, and Plumularia. Among the branches of certain of these, numbers of round discs or spheres are visible. These are young medusæ or jelly-fish, which grow like bunches of currants, and later will break off and swim around at pleasure in the water. Occasionally one is fortunate enough to discover these small jellies in a pool where they can be photographed as they pulsate back and forth. When these attain their full size they lay eggs which sink to the bottom and grow up into the plant-like hydroids. So each generation of these interesting creatures is entirely unlike that which immediately precedes or follows it. In other words, a hydroid is exactly like its grandmother and granddaughter, but as different from its parents and children in appearance as a plant is from an animal. Even in a fairy-story book this would be wonderful, but here it is taking place under our very eyes, as are scores of other transformations and "miracles in miniature" in this marvellous underworld.
Now let us deliberately pass by all the attractions of the middle zone of tide-pools and on as far as the lowest level of the water w ill admit. We are far out from the shore and many feet below the level of the barnacle-covered boulders over which we first clambered. Now we may indeed be prepared for strange sights, for we are on the very border-land of the vast unknown. The abyss in front of us is like planetary space, unknown to the feet of man. While we know the latter by scant glimpses through our telescopes, the former bas only been scratched by the hauls of the dredge, the mark of whose iron shoe is like the tiny track of a snail on the leaf mould of a vast forest.
The first plunge beneath the icy waters of Fundy is likely to remain long in one's memory, and one's first dive of short duration, but the glimpse which is had and the hastily snatched handfuls of specimens of the beauties which no tide ever uncovers is potent to make one forget his shivering and again and again seek to penetrate as far as a good-sized stone and a lungful of air will carry him. Strange sensations are experienced in these aquatic scrambles. It takes a long time to get used to pulling oneself downward, or propping your knees against the under crevices of rocks. To all intents and purposes, the law of gravitation is partly suspended, and when stone and wooden wedge accidentally slip from one's hand and disappear in opposite directions, it is confusing, to say the least.
When working in one spot for some time the fishes seem to become used to one, and approach quite closely. Slick-looking pollock, bloated lumpfish, and occasionally a sombre dog-fish rolls by, giving one a start, as the memory of pictures of battles between divers and sharks of tropical waters comes to mind. One's mental impressions made thus are somewhat disconnected. With the blood buzzing in the ears, it is only possible to snatch general glimpses and superficial details.
Then at the surface, notes can be made, and specimens which have been overlooked, felt for during the next trip beneath the surface. Fronds of Iaminaria yards in length, like sheets of rubber, offer convenient holds, and at their roots many curious creatures make their home. Serpent starfish, agile as insects and very brittle, are abundant, and new forms of worms, like great slugs, — their backs covered with gills in the form of tufted branches.
In these outer, eternally submerged regions are starfish of still other shapes, some with a dozen or more arms. I took one with thirteen rays and placed it temporarily in a pool aquarium with some large anemones. On returning in an hour or two I found the starfish trying to make a meal of the largest anemone. Hundreds of dart-covered strings had been pushed out by the latter in defence, but they seemed to cause the starfish no inconvenience whatever.
In my submarine glimpses I saw spaces free from seaweed on which hundreds of tall polyps were growing, some singly, others in small tufts. The solitary individuals rise three or four inches by a nearly straight stalk, surmounted by a many-tentacled head. This droops gracefully to one side and the general effect is that of a bed of rose-coloured flowers. From the heads hang grape-like masses, which on examination in a tumbler are seen to be immature medusæ. Each of these develop to the point where the four radiating canals are discernible and then their growth comes to a standstill, and they never attain the freedom for which their structure fits them.
When the wind blew inshore, I would often find the water fairly alive with large sun-jellies or Aurelia, — their Latin name. Their great milky-white bodies would come heaving along and bump against me, giving a very "crawly" sensation. The circle of short tentacles and the four horseshoe-shaped ovaries distinguish this jelly-fish from all others. When I had gone down as far as I dared, I would sometimes catch glimpses of these strange beings far below me, passing and repassing in the silence and icy coldness of the watery depths. These large medusæ are often very abundant after a favourable wind has blown for a few days, and I have rowed through masses of them so thick that it seemed like rowing through thick jelly, two or three feet deep. In an area the length of the boat and about a yard wide, I have counted over one hundred and fifty Aurelias on the surface alone.
When one of these "sun-fish," as the fishermen call them, is lifted from the water, the clay-coloured eggs may be seen to stream from it in myriads. In many jellies, small bodies the size of a pea are visible in the interior of the mass, and when extracted they prove to be a species of small shrimp. These are well adapted for their quasi-parasitic life, in colour being throughout of the same milky semi-opaqueness as their host, but one very curious thing about them is, that when taken out and placed in some water in a vial or tumbler they begin to turn darker almost immediately, and in five minutes all will be of various shades, from red to a dark brown.
I had no fear of Aurelia, but when another free-swimming species of jelly-fish, Cyanea, or the blue-jelly, appeared, I swam ashore with all speed. This great jelly is usually more of a reddish liver-colour than a purple, and is much to be dreaded. Its tentacles are of enormous length. I have seen specimens which measured two feet across the disc, with streamers fully forty feet long, and one has been recorded seven feet across and no less than one hundred and twelve feet to the tip of the cruel tentacles! These trail behind in eight bunches and form a living, tangled labyrinth as deadly as the hair of the fabled Medusa — whose name indeed has been so appropriately applied to this division of animals. The touch of each tentacle to the skin is like a lash of nettle, and there would be little hope for a diver whose path crossed such a fiery tangle. The untold myriads of little darts which are shot out secrete a poison which is terribly irritating.
On the crevice bottoms a sight now and then meets my eyes which brings the "devil-fish" of Victor Hugo 's romance vividly to mind, — a misshapen squid making its way snakily over the shells and seaweed. Its large eyes gaze fixedly around and the arms reach alternately forward, the sucking cups lined with their cruel teeth closing over the inequalities of the bottom. The creature may suddenly change its mode of progression and shoot like an arrow, backward and upward. If we watch one in its passage over areas of seaweed and sand, a wonderful adaptation becomes apparent. Its colour changes continually; when near sand it is of a sombre brown hue, then blushes of colour pass over it and the tint changes, corresponding to the seaweed or patches of pink sponge over which it swims. The way in which this is accomplished is very ingenious and loses nothing by examination. Beneath the skin are numerous cells filled with liquid pigment. When at rest these contract until they are almost invisible, appearing as very small specks or dots on the surface of the body. When the animal wishes to change its hue, certain muscles which radiate from these colour cells are shortened, drawing the cells out in all directions until they seem confluent. It is as if the freckles on a person's face should be all joined together, when an ordinary tan would result.
From bottoms ten to twenty fathoms below the surface, deeper than mortal eye can probably ever hope to reach, the dredge brings up all manner of curious things; basket starfish, with arms divided and subdivided into many tendrils, on the tips of which it walks, the remaining part converging upward like the trellis of a vine-covered summer house. Sponges of many hues must fairly carpet large areas of the deep water, as the dredge is often loaded with them. The small shore-loving ones which I photographed are in perfect health, but the camera cannot show the many tiny currents of water pouring in food and oxygen at the smaller openings, and returning in. larger streams from the tall funnels on the surface of the sponge, which a pinch of carmine dust reveals so beautifully. From the deeper aquatic gardens come up great orange and yellow sponges, two and three feet in length, and around the bases of these the weird serpent stars are clinging, while crabs scurry away as the mass reaches the surface of the water.
Treasures from depths of forty and even fifty fathoms can be obtained when a trip is taken with the trawl-men. One can sit fascinated for hours, watching the hundreds of yards of line reel in, with some interesting creature on each of the thirty-seven hundred odd hooks. At times a glance down into the clear water will show a score of fish in sight at once, hake, haddock, cod, halibut, dog-fish, and perhaps an immense "barn-door" skate, a yard or more square. This latter will hold back with frantic flaps of its great "wings," and tax all the strength of the sturdy Acadian fishermen to pull it to the gunwale.
Now and then a huge "meat-rock," the fishermen's apt name for an anemone, comes up, impaled on a hook, and still clinging to a stone of five to ten pounds weight. These gigantic scarlet ones from full fifty fathoms far surpass any near shore. Occasionally the head alone of a large fish will appear, with the entire body bitten clean off, a hint of the monsters which must haunt the lower depths. The pressure of the air must be excessive, for many of the fishes have their swimming bladders fairly forced out of their mouths by the lessening of atmospheric pressure as they are drawn to the surface. When a basket starfish finds one of the baits in that sunless void far beneath our boat, he hugs it so tenaciously that the upward jerks of the reel only make him hold the more tightly.
Once in a great while the fishermen find what they call a "knob-fish" on one of their hooks, and I never knew what they meant until one day a small colony of five was brought ashore. Boltenia, the scientists call them, tall, queer-shaped things; a stalk six to eight inches in length, with a knob or oblong bulb-like body at the summit, looking exactly like the flower of a lady-slipper orchid and as delicately coloured. This is a member of that curious family of Ascidians, which forever trembles in the balance between the higher back-boned animals and the lower division, where are classified the humbler insects, crabs, and snails. The young of Boltenia promises everything in its tiny backbone or notochord, but it all ends in promise, for that shadow of a great ambition withers away, and the creature is doomed to a lowly and vegetative life. If we soften the hard scientific facts which tell us of these dumb, blind creatures, with the humane mellowing thought of the oneness of all life, we will find much that is pathetic and affecting in their humble biographies from our point of view. And yet these cases of degeneration are far from anything like actual misfortunes, or mishaps of nature, as Buffon was so fond of thinking. These creatures have found their adult mode of life more free from competition than any other, and hence their adoption of it. It is only another instance of exquisite adaptation to an unfilled niche in the life of the world.
Yet another phase of enjoying the life of these northern waters; the one which comes after all the work and play of collecting is over for the day, after the last specimen is given a fresh supply of water for the night, and the final note in our journal is written. Then, as dusk falls, we make our way to the beach, ship our rudder and oars and push slowly along shore, or drift quietly with the tide. The stars may come out in clear splendour and the visual symphony of the northern lights play over the dark vault above us, or all may be obscured in lowering, leaden clouds. But the lights of the sea are never obscured — they always shine with a splendour which keeps one entranced for hours.
At night the ripples and foam of the Fundy shores seem transformed to molten silver and gold, and after each receding wave the emerald seaweed is left dripping with millions of sparkling lights, shining with a living lustre which would pale the brightest gem. Each of these countless sparks is a tiny animal, as perfect in its substance and as well adapted to its cycle of life as the highest created being. The wonderful way in which this phosphorescence permeates everything — the jelly-fish seeming elfish fireworks as they throb through the water with rhythmic beats — the fish brilliantly lighted up and plainly visible as they dart about far beneath the surface — makes such a night on the Bay of Fundy an experience to be always remembered.
Like the tints on a crescent sea beach
When the moon is new and thin,
Into our hearts high yearnings
Come welling and surging in
Come, from the mystic ocean,
Whose rim no foot has trod
Some of us call it longing,
And others call it God.
W. H. CARRUTH.