IN A LOG CAMP
THE last chapter of this Chronicle of Summers in Maine dates from a Log Camp in the heart of the far northern woods of the Pine-Tree State.
A log camp, with a famous guide for host, a place apparently sacred to the pastimes of men, seems a strange place for the lover of birds and peace, but attractions there were for her also deep woods, unconventionality, almost sole possession, and birds birds birds. Moreover, fishermen are quiet folk and guns are barred by law till after birds and bird-students are gone.
So it came about that one morning about the middle of May I found myself on the platform of a certain station, somewhat dismayed, it must be confessed, by the fact that the station and a tiny cottage beside it were apparently the only buildings that relieved the monotony of the unbroken forest. My host, however, who was there to meet me, quickly led the way through an obscure and rough path which brought us in a few minutes to the beautiful lake and beside it the Log Camp.
This was a sort of building new to me, made of upright logs with the bark removed. Inside I found the attractive mistress of the house, a fine large living-room with a rousing fire in the wide chimney, and sundry other rooms beside and above it, and all nicely furnished and arranged for living, for as my guide said the day of beds of boughs, cooking out of doors, sitting on logs, etc., was past, even for a so-called camp. There was no lack of comfortable beds and chairs, in fact, the name seems to be the only thing that clings to this unconventional retreat in the woods.
The partitions of the camp were of logs like the outside, bare of plastering, and the floors were simply thick boards, so a loud word spoken within the walls was audible in every part. One could n't quite hear a neighbor change his mind, but almost everything short of that. Moreover, in the years since the logs were placed they had parted company in places, and not only might one be illuminated by the lamp in the next room, but refreshed by the breezes from the great out-of-doors.
My neighbors in the log camp were few but interesting to study, for they were to me a new species sportsmen. One of their idiosyncrasies that amused and entertained me was the magical transformation that a change of clothes effected.
At this time, it must be
remembered, the guests were fishermen, who came singly or in small parties to
try their luck in the lovely lake before the door. A well-dressed, respectable
looking citizen would arrive at the camp, go to his room with his hand-baggage,
and presently would emerge a rough fellow, full of fun and life, jolly as a
boy, bearing rods and lines and all paraphernalia for fishing. He was another
person; he appeared not more than ten years old, though his gray hairs and
world-battered face proclaimed the passage over his head of five times those years.
He had shaken off his years with his city clothes, proving the truth of Mrs.
Now he comes out a boy dressed in disreputable clothes and battered hat, with manners to suit. He sings, he shouts, he strides about, and his talk is fishy to a degree, hooks, rods, flies, reels, and so on and on and on, ad infinitum. All this is kept up with enthusiasm, varied by daily excursions and fabulous fish-stories, till nearly time to take the train for home, when the transformation act is reversed, and there emerges a well-dressed, conventional city man again.
What mattered the little idiosyncrasies of the camp and the camp visitors, when we had the woods the grand wild woods of Maine! Not the spruce thickets of the Beloved Island on the Coast, but trees of great variety, reaching far up against the blue, "where sky and leafage intertwine," white birch with its kid-finish trunk, yellow birch fringed like an Indian warrior, sombre-hued cedar, with maple, pine, and occasional self-centred spruce, one and all in the varied tender green of spring.
It was a joy and delight to sit on the piazza and, aided by the glass, to look far in among the trees rejoicing in their fresh life and vigor; but when the student rashly tried to penetrate this promised land, to seek out its shy inhabitants, trouble began. This was Nature's own undisputed territory, and she had shown what she could do in the way of a tangle to keep intruders out of the secret places provided for the comfort and safety of her wild creatures her beasts and birds. It must be admitted that when Nature sets out to place barriers to our encroachments, she generally accomplishes her aim. These woods were a striking example of her ability.
Placed, to begin with, on rocks of varying height standing at all angles, with pit-holes between cunningly hidden by moss (her favorite method in Maine), then filled in with undergrowth of many sorts, half-decayed stumps, and fallen trees, inviting to the foot, but treacherously turning over or collapsing on being touched, with a layer over all of dead branches, thus providing impenetrable retreats for the shy porcupine and the wary fox, and delightful thickets for the birds, but a woe and a weariness to the human invader.
In some places where the needs of the few human dwellers (there were six permanent residents) had made a so-called path, there was a particularly dangerous trap for the unwary. The earth being worn away by their feet, left uncovered sundry tough small roots, the size and strength of whipcord, which, being held at both ends, made a snare, in which to catch a careless foot was to fall headlong, lucky, indeed, to escape serious hurt. Such was the stern reality of the picture so inviting from the piazza, and after a few disastrous attempts to penetrate the jungle so tantalizingly spread out before me, I was fain to content myself with what I could see from the outside.
There were no houses, I said, except the three mentioned, but soon was revealed to me a fourth, more interesting than all the rest. It was the home of a pair of woodpeckers, said my host, whose loud peculiar cries at once proclaimed them the yellow-breasted woodpecker or sapsucker. Theirs was an inconspicuous establishment in the edge of the woods, in the dead stub of a white birch twelve or fifteen feet high, which hung over the water.
The birds had selected the situation when all was quiet around, and great must have been their surprise and dismay when the camp began to turn out its noisy people, and the boat-house delivered up its contents of canoes and boats. Then the silent path beside them became a highway, logs were drawn up out of the lake with great crashing and shouting to horses, and men began to build a wharf directly before their door. Their stub, indeed, was in the way of this work, and it would have been cut down but for the kindness of my host, who would not have it disturbed while the birds were using it.
At first, before all this confusion, the birds announced their coming and going with their usual loud nasal call, one of the most remarkable of bird-cries; but so much company in the neighborhood soon reduced them to silence. They came and went without a sound until the young appeared, when the mother could not restrain an exultant "pip," as she flew away from her nursery.
Very early in our acquaintance I strayed down to call upon the sapsuckers rather, I struggled down over a short section of corduroy road, around rocks and stumps, and crossing a gully on logs and unstable bits of timber, at the imminent risk of a tumble. As soon as I reached the old stub the woodpecker himself came out of the door, alighted on the side near me, and saluted me with an imperative note, jerking his body excitedly, as if asking my business, or protesting against my impertinent presence. He was a splendid specimen in immaculate black and white, with flaming crest and throat-patch, above a shining black breast-plate, looking far too dressy for his modest gray dwelling.
It was well I took careful note of him, for that was his last appearance, in my sight, for days. I had watched him with my glass from the piazza, and I knew it was his habit to take his turn with his mate at sitting, but after that day he appeared no more at the nest. Was the shock of my visit too much for his philosophy?
The woodpecker did not abandon the neighborhood, however. Every day he or his double came early to the camp, knocking politely on the roof, making a great noise, but declining our earnest invitation to "Come in!"
The entrance to this interesting little home was on the water-side of the stump, and Nature had apparently provided a beautiful porch roof for them. It was a soft gray-white fungus, just the right size and shape and in the proper position. It would have kept out the rain finely, and I wondered the birds did not open their doorway under it. Their entrance, on the contrary, was over it, and almost at the top of the old trunk.
All through the day I watched the woodpecker family, but the evening, when they had become quiet, I devoted to the singers. It was an interesting bird neighborhood, almost entirely of woods-dwellers, of course. One pair of robins had strayed in there, attracted by the camp, perhaps, but they were unusually meek for robins, and did not pretend to own the country.
Besides the robins were few birds that we are accustomed to see about houses. No orioles, catbirds, or cedar-birds; no kingbirds or phoebes; no goldfinches or song-sparrows. Chebec was there. He was quite "pretty behaved" (in the language of the locality) when he first came, but a few days later, when he began to feel at home and found no one to disturb him, he grew "bumptious" and put on airs of owning the whole place, scolding me, attacking the redstart, and squabbling with his kin. A purple finch came about occasionally with his sweet song; a vireo serenaded us daily with tireless "ee-ay! kee-ter! kee-ter! keeter!" an oven-bird made the woods ring from morning till night; the long-necked, ungainly pileated woodpecker sometimes announced himself with resounding whacks, and the laugh of the flicker was heard through the woods.
The joy of twilight was the thrushes! Three of the family were at home in these sweet solitudes and made the evening glorious with their songs. The rapturous hermit far off, the conversational olive-back a little nearer, and the thrilling veery nearest and dearest of all. Long into the dark I sat on the piazza and listened to the chants of these birds till almost nine o'clock, when all songs were hushed and I went in to enjoy the big roaring fire and the guide's stories.
These stories were often very droll and always unique to me. Such, for example, as of the man who came to the camp in city rig with a gun so long that he could n't turn around, but had to back out of the woods; and of an excited fish who sprang out of the water and knocked the fisherman clean over into his own element, where it is to be presumed he gave him tit for tat.
I was especially interested in the bear stories, which show the peaceable, quiet-loving nature of this bugaboo of childhood. Bruin, it seems, has a wholesome distrust of man, and will always give him a wide berth when possible. If he is cornered and attacked he is able, of course, to defend himself and call out all the wit and the weapons of men. On one occasion, mine host related, and this he vouched for, a gang of men were cutting down trees, and in the fall of one it brought down a decayed neighbor, turning up the dead roots to the sun. Under that tree, it seemed, was the den of a bear, and when rudely disturbed by the tearing the roof from over his head, he very naturally roused himself and came out to see what was the matter. The guide was the first one to see him, and in his consternation at being faced by a big bear, with no gun at hand, he uttered a loud cry, started back, and fell flat in the snow. Surprised at his greeting, the bear turned to go the other way and met two men, who also cried out in terror and ran. The patient beast turned still another way, and lo, the fourth man added his voice and his flight to the others, when the guide by this time recovered called to them all to come back, for the bear was more scared than they were. Which, by the way, I did not regard as fair to the peace-loving animal. He was simply trying to get away from the screaming crowd. But men are never fair to their humble relatives. Because the bear is not aggressive, and asks only to be let alone, he is usually, and so far as I can judge from the stories, unjustly, dubbed "cowardly."
A day or two after I had seen the gayly clad sapsucker beside his door, I noticed that, although there were still two birds taking turns at the sitting, he was not one of them. This aroused my interest to see who had assumed his abandoned labors in the nursery, and I paid closer attention. The two birds changed places simultaneously; that is, one did not leave the nest until the other was ready to go in, it was not left alone a minute. When the incoming bird reached the old trunk, she alighted on a bit of broken-off branch on one side. In a moment the bird within flew out of the door, and the new-comer went in. I could always plainly see the latter because of this pause, but the outgoing one went so swiftly I could not see clearly.
I soon decided that the incomer was always a female, or, at least, always had a white throat. Were there, then, two females attending to the business? Was my beautiful sapsucker a Mormon? or had he called in an unattached neighbor to take his place?
This was a mystery, and closer study deepened it. On several occasions in the little flurry of arrival and departure I saw both the sitters together, and then I saw that while both of them had the white throat and breast, one had a narrow stripe of red on the head, and the other had an entirely black crown.
Nor was this the only sapsucker problem. Several times there came around the house a fourth member of the family who had a heavy black breast, but no red on throat or crown. This was my dilemma: the perfect-plumaged male with black breast-plate and full crown and throat of red belonged to the nest, for I saw him go in and out many times.
Who, then, was the bird with narrow red stripe on the head and the white throat of a female, so devoted to the nest?
If the red-striped bird was the mate of the perfect male, who was the black-crowned one? Was one of the two a friendly neighbor? In a word, which was which, and who was the other?
Moreover, who was the nondescript with the black breast of masculinity and the white throat and undecorated head of feminine woodpeckerdom?
Are such eccentricities of costume common in the sapsucker family?
None of these problems could I solve, though I watched hours every day, when watching was a warfare for the insect pests which abounded.
After a while, when the young were hatched and both white-breasted birds were feeding, the brilliant male came about again, climbing the trees in the way that always suggests the beanstalk hero of the nursery, "hitchity-hatchet and up I go," sliding down and waltzing around the trunk with a freedom and ease to make one wonder; then bringing his prey to a stump and beating and worrying it awhile before eating, calling his loud cry, and making himself obvious in every way, but never once approaching the nest.
I shall never know the truth of the domestic arrangements of that home in the old stump, for a little later events put an abrupt end to my study.
When I found that the young were out, I kept close watch of the feeding. The mother or must I say mothers? brought worms so big that I could see them. They were not dug out from under the bark, but picked off, and if the trees around were not stripped of worms it was not for lack of diligence on their part. Remembering this bird's reputation as a sapsucker, I looked carefully for punctures in the bark of the maple-trees in the vicinity, but I looked in vain.
I have spoken of the torments that made out-of-door study heroic, black flies, which I never encountered before, and the familiar torture of the mosquito. They came together, they came in hosts, and they came every hour of the day, one singing around the face in a way to drive one wild, the other silent but inflexible of purpose, persistent in effort, and never failing to get in its maddening work.
Then I learned the value of a camp "smudge." The word has a repelling sound, and the idea is not agreeable, but the relief is rapture, and I learned what surprised me that one can be happy and listen enthralled to bird-song while enveloped in a cloud of smoke.
"Making a smudge is a lost art," said my host; but I could not agree with him, for he made a grand one, such as required a Maine guide of years' experience to produce, one that would throw out its protecting clouds two or three hours without renewal. Some mysterious combination in a deep tin pail, brightly burning, then smothered by a mass of green leaves and fern ferns, alas! holding most tenaciously to life, and therefore making the most lasting smudge.
The woodpeckers were not the only interesting residents of the woods, nor the thrushes the only singers. The scarlet tanager sometimes favored us with a sight of his brilliant livery and the sound of his halting, somewhat hoarse song; purple finches visited us with their sweet warbling strains; and a winter wren bless him! came frequently with his witching notes.
The wren had a nest I suppose it was he, for I heard no other of his kind on an upright beam against a house or "camp" a little farther up the lake. It was like the other nests of this bird I have seen, round as a ball, with entrance on the side, and in the fullness of time the nestlings made their exit exactly as I have seen these minute birdlings do before. A friendly visitor went close and peeped into the doorway to see if they had gone, when instantly there was a scramble and a rush, and five baby-wrens took flight in as many directions. The visitor was startled and dismayed at the mischief she had wrought, but I comforted her with the assurance that as they all flew well, they were no doubt ready, and perhaps even waiting, for some such incentive to bestir themselves.
Living in the woods away from society had apparently developed some eccentricities among the birds, or else they were so full of joy in their paradise that it must show itself in peculiar ways. The purple finch, for example, after ending his usual song, added many repetitions of one note, sometimes changing it to a run of a few notes down the musical scale. It sounded a little like the robin's "laugh," and was a very pleasing conclusion, for this bird's song always seems to me unfinished and to need a few concluding notes. A vireo, the one who called all day about the house "ee-ay," following it with what sounded like "kee-ter! kee-ter! kee-ter!" occasionally concluded this standard utterance with a short strain of a song entirely different from any vireo-notes I ever heard. An oven-bird, whose conventional song, "teacher! teacher! teacher!" was heard all day, now and then varied the monotony by running on into half a dozen notes of quite another character, as if he had half a mind to add his flight-song.
I do not wish to imply that a bird has but one song. A greatly mistaken notion which has wide circulation and belief among persons who are not observers is embodied in these verses by Dr. Holland:
So far is this from true, that the individuality of bird-utterances is sufficiently marked to distinguish those of the same species from one another. Very rarely, indeed, does a bird repeat exactly the notes of another of his family.
The common robin varies his song indefinitely. I have heard all grades of excellence, as well as varieties of arrangement. One bird I have known on the coast of Maine for two consecutive years, who at a certain part of his song sings what sounds like "id-i-ot! id-i-ot! id-i-ot!" so plainly that he has been named after the writer who also makes that the burden of his song (with apologies to J. K. B.).1
More than this; I have on two or three occasions heard a robin evolve a new song, or a new turn in an old one, which appeared to give him great pleasure, for he stood in the spot where it had seemed to strike him, and repeated it many times, omitting all the rest of his song, and after that introducing it into his regular carol. At another time I was electrified one morning by a strange new song, a tender tremolo, and hastening out to see the singer, found a robin who had adapted his so-called "laugh," giving it in a soft, musical tone and much higher key, and thus producing a really captivating strain. The bird seemed as much surprised as I was, as if he had chanced upon it, and he repeated it for a long time.
The junco, a common bird in New England, whose ordinary utterance is a simple trill, or rapid repetition of one note, like that of the chipping-sparrow, had, in one place where I heard him, a second song, lower in tone and of different quality altogether. And a chipping-sparrow in the same place improved on his song by interrupting the usual monotonous trill with pauses of varying length, which made it far more attractive. The vesper-sparrow has a varied song, and I once heard one who produced a strange double-note effect, the second much lower than the first, and so nearly together that I could hardly believe one bird uttered it. The song-sparrow has a very extensive repertoire, as noted elsewhere. I have heard and seen one bird, perched in plain sight, give eight totally different songs. Among this species, too, is the greatest variety in degrees of excellence. Some are almost equal to our finest songsters, and I never heard two sing alike.
Nor is variety confined to the sparrows there are the warblers. The black-throated green warbler, an exquisite bird, common in northern New England, whose song is usually represented by the words "trees, trees, beautiful trees," I have already spoken of. Another of these fairy-like warblers, the Maryland yellow-throat, is popularly supposed to have a song of three notes represented by "witches-here," or "o-wee-chee," repeated three times; but I spent one summer beside one who had five syllables in his song, and not one like those quoted above.
Not even the wood-thrush is constant to his score. I once had the happiness of living a few weeks near one of these birds who was an original genius. He had an exceptionally fine voice to begin with, pure and rich, and his inspirational efforts were concentrated upon his one closing note, which he rendered in several different ways impossible to characterize, but all delightful.
Mr. Cheney, who studied this matter critically, and has given us a book of bird-songs carefully reduced to our musical scale, recognizes a vast difference between individuals of the same species. "I find more and more," he says, "that birds extemporize, and that those of the same species do not sing alike." This must be the experience of every close student.
Another interesting thing about the songs of birds is the fact that they are capable of classification. Nearly all have three, and many of them four kinds of songs, which I have designated as
First, the common song.
Second, the love-song.
Third, the whisper-song.
Fourth, the flight-song.
The love-song is that which blesses us on the arrival of the birds in spring, in wooing mood. It is ecstatic, and probably the best a bird can do. On several occasions I have known the love-song to be addressed by captive birds to the one in the house on whom they had fixed their affections, but always with a peculiar emphasis of manner, and almost always when alone with the beloved, showing that it was something very special.
To enjoy the love-song one must not only be up early in the morning, but in the field promptly with the opening of the season. For when the bride is won, the home established, and the singer settled down to entertain his mate, and await the time when the pretty shells shall give up their precious contents, and the nest shall "brim over with the load of downy breasts and throbbing wings," the song becomes the calmly happy utterance I have called the common song. It is at this time that a bird has leisure to vary, change, and elaborate his theme, and it is a most pleasing time to study him.
Sometimes one shall be so happy as to hear what I have called the whisper-song. One must be very near and very silent, for it can be heard only at a distance of a few feet, being delivered with nearly or quite a closed beak, and by no means intended for the public ear. There is a dreamy, rapturous quality in this song which differentiates it from all others. It seems to be addressed neither to the mate, nor to the world at large, but to be simply a soliloquy, an irrepressible bubbling over of his joy of life. And it gives emphatic denial if one were needed to the opinion which has been expressed, that a bird lives in constant terror of his life. No one who has heard that song can believe otherwise than that it comes from a serene and blissful spirit.
The flight-song is still more rare, and different, also. Not all birds are known to indulge in that particular form of expression, but discoveries are constantly being made, and not infrequently another bird is added to the list of those known to have a flight-song.
This utterance on the wing, while differing from the others, as said, usually introduces a strain from the common song, or the family call, which readily identifies the singer. The oven-bird, for instance, while pouring out his rhapsody, sailing about over one's head in the dusk of late afternoon, interpolates an occasional "teacher! teacher!" which proclaims him at once. The bewitching little yellow-throat, while delivering himself on wing cannot refrain from a betraying "o-we-chee!" which is equivalent to shouting his name.
While songs differ with individuals, with seasons, with emotions, even with age, there is still always a certain family quality or manner by which one may recognize the species. Rarely do two robins arrange their simple notes in the same way, yet one never fails to recognize the voice of a robin. It is the same with orioles, thrushes, and all others.
A noteworthy thing about a bird's song is, that he has to learn it, it does "not come by Nature" as was formerly believed. This has been amply proved, both by hearing the youngsters at their music-lessons, and by the fact that birds reared away from their kind learn the song of whoever happens to be their neighbor. A gentleman in Brooklyn picked up a chewink too young to fly, and reared it in a cage which stood next to a European ortolan. He learned the complete song of his neighbor and sang it always, even after a singing-bird of his own species had been placed beside him to see if he would recognize his native notes.
Another case is of two rose-breasted grosbeaks reared from the nest by a friend in New Hampshire. They sang freely, but never the song of their family, and an English sparrow in the same house sang a robin-song.
An interesting case of a bird making up a song of his own without instruction, is that of a captive catbird reared from the nest in the heart of an old New England town, and never having an opportunity to hear any other bird, and so get any musical hints. He was and is, for he is alive at this writing a great pet and very tame, the constant companion of a mother and daughter who spend most of their time in the room with him, and talk to him constantly. Out of his surroundings and his own "inner consciousness" he has evolved a song. It is, of course, in the tone and manner of his race, but it is curiously original, reproducing many of the sounds about him, and even several short sentences of the human language as plainly as any parrot. "Hello, little boy!" and "Hello, sweetheart!" common greetings of his fond mistress, are pronounced perfectly. The true American "Hurry up! Hurry up!" caught from the children on the street, as his cage hung near an open window, and "Baby boy!" are other of his articulate utterances. The interesting thing about all these is, that they form part of his song, and are not spoken as separate sentences, though he will often repeat one after his mistress.
The catbird is a most interesting and accomplished bird in other respects. He whistles the first line of "Coming through the rye" very completely, and like all birds, he has various other utterances, a complaining "qu! qu!" when he wants his cage moved into another room, a charming whispered chatter in a plaintive tone when his beloved mistress comes close to him and talks to him, which he will keep up as long as she will stay.
In the spring, the season of love-making in the bird-world, he is most sentimental and coaxing in his "talk" and chatter to his two lovers, coming on their shoulders and busying himself with scraps from the waste-basket, as if to hint that nest-making is in order. This bird is so busy and so evidently happy that one is not moved to painful sympathy as in the case of most captives. He has many playthings which he enjoys greatly. Among them a tiny bell to ring and a small china doll, which seems to give him as much pleasure as it does our own little folk. He is out of his cage a great part of the time, and generally returns to it of his own accord, evidently feeling that it is home.
Even the adult bird can learn a new song. I have known of two cases, one of which I saw and heard myself, of a captive English sparrow learning the song of a canary, and giving it perfectly, with all its trills and quavers.
If, in studying these most fascinating little creatures, we could clear our minds of the old notions of instinct, it would be a help to rational understanding of their lives. Lloyd Morgan has done much by his experiments with birds hatched in incubators, to eradicate the popular belief in blind instinct, but more remains to be done. Here is a fruitful field for some of our active young bird-students to occupy. A field, too, which does not require the killing or even disturbing of parent birds, or stealing their young. For to be conclusive the experiment must begin with the incubator, and the domesticated species are best and most convenient for the purpose.
We laugh at the myths and fables by which the ancients accounted for curious facts in bird-life, but listen to a sample of the ignorance of our ancestors little more than one hundred years ago. In a serious "Dictionary of Natural History" this account is given of the albatross:
Should not these statements make us a little modest in our assertions, and suggest to us that not everything is known even yet; and that it does not become us to be incredulous when a new song or a hitherto unknown habit is discovered? What we know about bird-life bears no comparison to what we do not know, as any thorough student of living birds will testify.
To return to the woodpeckers: the only attempt at a continuous song that I heard from the sapsucker was a droll performance in his always droll tone, a sort of sobbing, retching "yar-rup!" often repeated with indrawn breath, as it seemed. At first I thought it a cry of distress, but as the bird seemed to be enjoying himself, I concluded it was only his quaint way of expressing himself.
Into these delightful days in the log camp came creeping a whisper to chill one's blood. It was that dread word "fire," most fearful of all in the deep woods. Humors grew and thickened; there was an ungovernable fire a few miles above, clouds of smoke drifted down and obscured the lake, and fine white ashes fell upon us on the piazza. A hundred men had been sent up to fight it, but it was marching with irresistible force at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, it was said, sweeping all before it. One town was already burned. Then suddenly came the dreaded cry from below us, half a mile off, and every man about the camp seized pail or shovel and hurried away. At night they came back, begrimed, scorched, and half dead with fatigue, and said they had got it so choked off that it would not reach us that night at any rate.
Already the evening fish and bear stories gave place to tales of this one terror of the woods. It was said that birch-trees, of which these woods are full, are veritable incendiaries; that when the bark begins to burn, it curls away from the trunk, comes off in great flakes, and is carried by the wind to other trees, and so spreads the flames. With a strong wind blowing night and day, and the whole state as dry as tinder, this was not cheering news.
The next day new terrors: fire broke out nearer, on the railroad itself, our way out. The ties were blazing, and a train which came up could not pass because of warped rails, and had to go back.
Still I lingered, loath to leave the beautiful spot, and looking and hoping for the saving rain. All the men about the camp, fishermen and guests included, hurried away to fight the enemy so near. Two of them told me of a little tragedy they witnessed, one of the thousands that doubtless took place, "a bird commit suicide," as they phrased it. It darted into a bush that was burning, and dropped dead, as they saw. No doubt the nest was there.
At last came the deciding rumor which ended my hesitation, destroyed my last hope, and set me to packing my trunk. The trestle work of an indispensable railroad bridge had taken fire. Crippling that bridge would cut off retreat by rail, and leave us only the doubtful resources of small boats by which to escape.
I hastily collected my belongings, for I put not my faith in small boats, waited till a train came up, and thus proved that the road was open, flagged the first train down, and took a day's ride through burning Maine, in smoke so dense we could not see the landscape, and the sun shone red as blood. The smoke reached out into the ocean, it was said, several hundred miles, and incoming steamers had to go slowly, as through a fog.
Down to the coast I came, took steamer to the Beloved Island, where, happily, there are few trees to burn, and here at last, where my story begins, it comes to an end, on the enchanting coast of Maine.
1 Editors note: Reference here is to a contemporary book by John K. Bangs The Idiot.