List Of Contents | Contents of Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs
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reared them from the seed, and you yourself have pruned and grafted
them, and worked among them, till every separate tree has a peculiar
history and meaning in your mind. Then there is the never-failing crop
of birds,--robins, goldfinches, kingbirds, cedar-birds, hairbirds,
orioles, starlings,--all nesting and breeding in its branches, and
fitly described by Wilson Flagg as "Birds of the Garden and Orchard."
Whether the pippin and sweet bough bear or not, the "punctual birds"
can always be depended on. Indeed, there are few better places to study
ornithology than in the orchard. Besides its regular occupants, many of
the birds of the deeper forest find occasion to visit it during the
season. The cuckoo comes for the tent-caterpillar, the jay for frozen
apples, the ruffed grouse for buds, the crow foraging for birds' eggs,
the woodpecker and chickadees for their food, and the high-hole for
ants. The redbird comes, too, if only to see what a friendly covert its
branches form; and the wood thrush now and then comes out of the grove
near by, and nests alongside of its cousin, the robin. The smaller
hawks know that this is a most likely spot for their prey, and in
spring the shy northern warblers may be studied as they pause to feed
on the fine insects amid its branches. The mice love to dwell here
also, and hither come from the near woods the squirrel and the rabbit.
The latter will put his head through the boy's slipper-noose any time
for a taste of the sweet apple, and the red squirrel and chipmunk
esteem its seeds a great rarity.

All the domestic animals love the apple, but none so much as the cow.
The taste of it wakes her up as few other things do, and bars and
fences must be well looked after. No need to assort them or to pick out
the ripe ones for her. An apple is an apple, and there is no best about
it. I heard of a quick-witted old cow that learned to shake them down
from the tree. While rubbing herself she had observed that an apple
sometimes fell. This stimulated her to rub a little harder, when more
apples fell. She then took the hint, and rubbed her shoulder with such
vigor that the farmer had to check her and keep an eye on her, to save
his fruit.

But the cow is the friend of the apple.  How many trees she has planted
about the farm, in the edge of the woods, and in remote fields and
pastures! The wild apples, celebrated by Thoreau, are mostly of her
planting. She browses them down, to be sure, but they are hers, and why
should she not?

What an individuality the apple-tree has, each variety being nearly as
marked by its form as by its fruit. What a vigorous grower, for
instance, is the Ribston pippin, an English apple,--wide-branching like
the oak; its large ridgy fruit, in late fall or early winter, is one of
my favorites. Or the thick and more pendent top of the bellflower, with
its equally rich, sprightly, uncloying fruit.

Sweet apples are perhaps the most nutritious, and when baked are a
feast in themselves. With a tree of the Jersey sweet or of the Talman
sweet in bearing, no man's table need be devoid of luxuries and one of
the most wholesome of all desserts. Or the red astrachan, an August
apple,--what a gap may be filled in the culinary department of a
household at this season by a single tree of this fruit! And what a
feast is its shining crimson coat to the eye before its snow-white
flesh has reached the tongue! But the apple of apples for the household
is the spitzenburg. In this casket Pomona has put her highest flavors.
It can stand the ordeal of cooking, and still remain a spitz. I
recently saw a barrel of these apples from the orchard of a
fruit-grower in the northern part of New York, who has devoted especial
attention to this variety. They were perfect gems. Not large,--that had
not been the aim,--but small, fair, uniform, and red to the core. How
intense, how spicy and aromatic!

But all the excellences of the apple are not confined to the cultivated
fruit. Occasionally a seedling springs up about the farm that produces
fruit of rare beauty and worth. In sections peculiarly adapted to the
apple, like a certain belt along the Hudson River, I have noticed that
most of the wild, unbidden trees bear good, edible fruit. In cold and
ungenial districts the seedlings are mostly sour and crabbed, but in
more favorable soils they are oftener mild and sweet. I know wild
apples that ripen in August, and that do not need, if it could be had,
Thoreau's sauce of sharp, November air to be eaten with. At the foot of
a hill near me, and striking its roots deep in the shale, is a giant
specimen of native tree that bears an apple that has about the
clearest, waxiest, most transparent complexion I ever saw. It is of
good size, and the color of a tea rose. Its quality is best appreciated
in the kitchen. I know another seedling of excellent quality, and so
remarkable for its firmness and density that it is known on the farm
where it grows as the "heavy apple."

I have alluded to Thoreau, to whom all lovers of the apple and its tree
are under obligation. His chapter on Wild Apples is a most delicious
piece of writing. It has a "tang and smack" like the fruit it
celebrates, and is dashed and streaked with color in the same manner.
It has the hue and perfume of the crab, and the richness and raciness
of the pippin. But Thoreau loved other apples than the wild sorts, and
was obliged to confess that his favorites could not be eaten indoors.
Late in November he found a blue-pearmain tree growing within the edge
of a swamp, almost as good as wild. "You would not suppose," he says,
"that there was any fruit left there on the first survey, but you must
look according to system. Those which lie exposed are quite brown and
rotten now, or perchance a few still show one blooming cheek here and
there amid the wet leaves. Nevertheless, with experienced eyes I
explore amid the bare alders, and the huckleberry bushes, and the
withered sedge, and in the crevices of the rocks, which are full of
leaves, and pry under the fallen and decaying ferns which, with apple
and alder leaves, thickly strew the ground. For I know that they lie
concealed, fallen into hollows long since, and covered up by the leaves
of the tree itself,--a proper kind of packing. From these
lurkingplaces, anywhere within the circumference of the tree, I draw
forth the fruit all wet and glossy, maybe nibbled by rabbits and
hollowed out by crickets, and perhaps with a leaf or two cemented to it
(as Curzon an old manuscript from a monastery's mouldy cellar), but
still with a rich bloom on it, and at least as ripe and well kept, if
not better than those in barrels, more crisp and lively than they. If
these resources fail to yield anything, I have learned to look between
the bases of the suckers which spring thickly from some horizontal
limb, for now and then one lodges there, or in the very midst of an
alderclump, where they are covered by leaves, safe from cows which may
have smelled them out. If I am sharp-set,--for I do not refuse the
blue-pearmain,--I fill my pockets on each side; and as I retrace my
steps in the frosty eve, being perhaps four or five miles from home, I
eat one first from this side, and then from that, to keep my balance."



I will say at the outset, as I believe some one else has said on a like
occasion, that in this narrative I shall probably describe myself more
than the objects I look upon. The facts and particulars of the case
have already been set down in the guidebooks and in innumerable books
of travel. I shall only attempt to give an account of the pleasure and
satisfaction I had in coming face to face with things in the mother
country, seeing them as I did with kindred and sympathizing eyes.

The ocean was a dread fascination to me,--a world whose dominion I had
never entered; but I proved to be such a wretched sailor that I am
obliged to confess, Hibernian fashion, that the happiest moment I spent
upon the sea was when I set my foot upon the land.

It is a wide and fearful gulf that separates the two worlds.  The
landsman can know little of the wildness, savageness, and mercilessness
of nature till he has been upon the sea. It is as if he had taken a
leap off into the interstellar spaces. In voyaging to Mars or Jupiter,
he might cross such a desert,--might confront such awful purity and
coldness. An astronomic solitariness and remoteness encompass the sea.
The earth and all remembrance of it is blotted out; there is no hint of
it anywhere. This is not water, this cold, blue-black, vitreous liquid.
It suggests, not life, but death. Indeed, the regions of everlasting
ice and snow are not more cold and inhuman than is the sea.

Almost the only thing about my first sea voyage that I remember with
pleasure is the circumstance of the little birds that, during the first
few days out, took refuge on the steamer. The first afternoon, just as
we were losing sight of land, a delicate little wood-bird, the black
and white creeping warbler,--having lost its reckoning in making
perhaps its first southern voyage,--came aboard. It was much fatigued,
and had a disheartened, demoralized look. After an hour or two it
disappeared, having, I fear, a hard pull to reach the land in the face
of the wind that was blowing, if indeed it reached it at all.

The next day, just at night, I observed a small hawk sailing about
conveniently near the vessel, but with a very lofty, independent mien,
as if he had just happened that way on his travels, and was only
lingering to take a good view of us. It was amusing to observe his
coolness and haughty unconcern in that sad plight he was in; by nothing
in his manner betraying that he was several hundred miles at sea, and
did not know how he was going to get back to land. But presently I
noticed he found it not inconsistent with his dignity to alight on the
rigging under friendly cover of the tops'l, where I saw his feathers
rudely ruffled by the wind, till darkness set in. If the sailors did
not disturb him during the night, he certainly needed all his fortitude
in the morning to put a cheerful face on his situation.

The third day, when we were perhaps off Nova Scotia or Newfoundland,
the American pipit or titlark, from the far north, a brown bird about
the size of a sparrow, dropped upon the deck of the ship, so nearly
exhausted that one of the sailors was on the point of covering it with
his hat. It stayed about the vessel nearly all day, flitting from point
to point, or hopping along a few feet in front of the promenaders, and
prying into every crack and crevice for food. Time after time I saw it
start off with a reassuring chirp, as if determined to seek the land;
but before it had got many rods from the ship its heart would seem to
fail it, and, after circling about for a few moments, back it would
come, more discouraged than ever.

These little waifs from the shore!  I gazed upon them with a strange,
sad interest. They were friends in distress; but the sea-birds,
skimming along indifferent to us, or darting in and out among those
watery hills, I seemed to look upon as my natural enemies. They were
the nurslings and favorites of the sea, and I had no sympathy with

No doubt the number of our land-birds that actually perish in the sea
during their autumn migration, being carried far out of their course by
the prevailing westerly winds of this season, is very great.
Occasionally one makes the passage to Great Britain by following the
ships, and finding them at convenient distances along the route; and I
have been told that over fifty different species of our more common
birds, such as robins, starlings, grosbeaks, thrushes, etc., have been
found in Ireland, having, of course, crossed in this way. What numbers
of these little navigators of the air are misled and wrecked, during
those dark and stormy nights, on the lighthouses alone that line the
Atlantic coast! Is it Celia Thaxter who tells of having picked up her
apron full of sparrows, warblers, flycatchers, etc., at the foot of the
lighthouse on the Isles of Shoals, one morning after a storm, the
ground being still strewn with birds of all kinds that had dashed
themselves against the beacon, bewildered and fascinated by its
tremendous light?

If a land-bird perishes at sea, a sea-bird is equally cast away upon
the land; and I have known the sooty tern, with its almost omnipotent
wing, to fall down, utterly famished and exhausted, two hundred miles
from salt water.

But my interest in these things did not last beyond the third day.
About this time we entered what the sailors call the "devil's hole,"
and a very respectably sized hole it is, extending from the banks of
Newfoundland to Ireland, and in all seasons and weathers it seems to be
well stirred up.

Amidst the tossing and rolling, the groaning of penitent travelers, and
the laboring of the vessel as she climbed those dark unstable
mountains, my mind reverted feebly to Huxley's statement, that the
bottom of this sea, for over a thousand miles, presents to the eye of
science a vast chalk plain, over which one might drive as over a floor,
and I tried to solace myself by dwelling upon the spectacle of a
solitary traveler whipping up his steed across it. The imaginary rattle
of his wagon was like the sound of lutes and harps, and I would rather
have clung to his axletree than have been rocked in the best berth in
the ship.


On the tenth day, about four o'clock in the afternoon, we sighted
Ireland. The ship came up from behind the horizon, where for so many
days she had been buffeting with the winds and the waves, but had never
lost the clew, bearing straight as an arrow for the mark. I think, if
she had been aimed at a fair-sized artillery target, she would have
crossed the ocean and struck the bull's-eye.

In Ireland, instead of an emerald isle rising out of the sea, I beheld
a succession of cold, purplish mountains, stretching along the
northeastern horizon, but I am bound to say that no tints of bloom or
verdure were ever half so welcome to me as were those dark,
heather-clad ranges. It is a feeling which a man can have but once in
his life, when he first sets eyes upon a foreign land; and in my case,
to this feeling was added the delightful thought that the "devil's
hole" would soon be cleared and my long fast over.

Presently, after the darkness had set in, signal rockets were let off
from the stern of the vessel, writing their burning messages upon the
night; and when answering rockets rose slowly up far ahead, I suppose
we all felt that the voyage was essentially done, and no doubt a
message flashed back under the ocean that the Scotia had arrived.

The sight of the land had been such medicine to me that I could now
hold up my head and walk about, and so went down for the first time and
took a look at the engines,--those twin monsters that had not stopped
once, or apparently varied their stroke at all, since leaving Sandy
Hook; I felt like patting their enormous cranks and shafts with my
hand,--then at the coal bunks, vast cavernous recesses in the belly of

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