List Of Contents | Contents of Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs
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the hypothenuse, and I think the concussion was considerably diminished
thereby. The vessel was forever trembling upon the verge of immense
watery chasms that opened now under her port bow, now under her
starboard, and that almost made one catch his breath as he looked into
them; yet the noble ship had a way of skirting them or striding across
them that was quite wonderful. Only five days was, I compelled to "hole
up" in my stateroom, hibernating, weathering the final rude shock of
the Atlantic. Part of this time I was capable of feeling a languid
interest in the oscillations of my coat suspended from a hook in the
door. Back and forth, back and forth, all day long, vibrated this black
pendulum, at long intervals touching the sides of the room, indicating
great lateral or diagonal motion of the ship. The great waves, I
observed, go in packs like wolves. Now one would pounce upon her, then
another, then another, in quick succession, making the ship strain
every nerve to shake them off. Then she would glide along quietly for
some minutes, and my coat would register but a few degrees in its
imaginary arc, when another band of the careering demons would cross
our path and harass us as before. Sometimes they would pound and thump
on the sides of the vessel like immense sledge-hammers, beginning away
up toward the bows and quickly running down her whole length, jarring,
raking, and venting their wrath in a very audible manner; or a wave
would rake along the side with a sharp, ringing, metallic sound, like a
huge spear-point seeking a vulnerable place; or some hard-backed
monster would rise up from the deep and grate and bump the whole length
of the keel, forcibly suggesting hidden rocks and consequent wreck and

Then it seems there is always some biggest wave to be met somewhere on
the voyage,--a monster billow that engulfs disabled vessels, and
sometimes carries away parts of the rigging of the stanchest. This big
wave struck us the third day out about midnight, and nearly threw us
all out of our berths, and careened the ship over so far that it seemed
to take her last pound of strength to right herself up again. There was
a slamming of doors, a rush of crockery, and a screaming of women,
heard above the general din and confusion, while the steerage
passengers thought their last hour had come. The vessel before us
encountered this giant wave during a storm in mid-ocean, and was
completely buried beneath it; one of the officers was swept over board,
the engines suddenly stopped, and there was a terrible moment during
which it seemed uncertain whether the vessel would shake off the sea or
go to the bottom.

Besides observing the oscillations of my coat, I had at times a stupid
satisfaction in seeing my two new London trunks belabor each other
about my stateroom floor. Nearly every day they would break from their
fastenings under my berth and start on a wild race for the opposite
side of the room. Naturally enough, the little trunk would always get
the start of the big one, but the big one followed close, and sometimes
caught the little one in a very, uncomfortable manner. Once a knife and
fork and a breakfast plate slipped off the sofa and joined in, the
race; but, if not distanced, they got sadly the worst of it, especially
the plate. But the carpet had the most reason to complain. Two or three
turns sufficed to loosen it from the floor, when, shoved to one side,
the two trunks took turns in butting it. I used to allow this sport to
go on till it grew monotonous, when I would alternately shout and ring
until "Robert" appeared and restored order.

The condition of certain picture-frames and vases and other frail
articles among my effects, when I reached home, called to mind not very
pleasantly this trunken frolic.

It is impossible not to sympathize with the ship in her struggles with
the waves. You are lying there wedged into your berth, and she seems
indeed a thing of life and conscious power. She is built entirely of
iron, is 500 feet long, and, besides other freight, carries 2500 tons
of railroad iron, which lies down there flat in her bottom, a dead,
indigestible weight, so unlike a cargo in bulk; yet she is a quickened
spirit for all that. You feel every wave that strikes her; you feel the
sea bearing her down; she has run her nose into one of those huge
swells, and a solid blue wall of water tons in weight comes over her
bows and floods her forward deck; she braces herself, every rod and
rivet and timber seems to lend its support; you almost expect to see
the wooden walls of your room grow rigid with muscular contraction; she
trembles from stem to stern, she recovers, she breaks the gripe of her
antagonist, and, rising up, shakes the sea from her with a kind of
gleeful wrath; I hear the torrents of water rush along the lower decks,
and, finding a means of escape, pour back into the sea, glad to get
away on any terms, and I say, "Noble ship! you are indeed a god!"

I wanted to see a first-class storm at sea, and perhaps ought to be
satisfied with the heavy blow or hurricane we had when off Sable
Island, but I confess I was not, though, by the lying to of the vessel
and the frequent soundings, it was evident there was danger about. A
dense fog uprose, which did not drift like a land fog, but was as
immovable as iron; it was like a spell, a misty enchantment; and out of
this fog came the wind, a steady, booming blast, that smote the ship
over on her side and held her there, and howled in the rigging like a
chorus of fiends. The waves did not know which way to flee; they were
heaped up and then scattered in a twinkling. I thought of the terrible
line of one of our poets:--

       "The spasm of the sky and the shatter of the sea."

The sea looked wrinkled and old and oh, so pitiless!  I had stood long
before Turner's "Shipwreck" in the National Gallery in London, and this
sea recalled his, and I appreciated more than ever the artist's great

These storms, it appears, are rotary in their wild dance and promenade
up and down the seas. "Look the wind squarely in the teeth," said an
ex-sea-captain among the passengers, "and eight points to the right in
the northern hemisphere will be the centre of the storm, and eight
points to the left in the southern hemisphere." I remembered that, in
Victor Hugo's terrible dynamics, storms revolved in the other direction
in the northern hemisphere, or followed the hands of a watch, while
south of the equator they no doubt have ways equally original.

Late in the afternoon the storm abated, the fog was suddenly laid, and,
looking toward the setting sun, I saw him athwart the wildest, most
desolate scene in which it was ever my fortune to behold the face of
that god. The sea was terribly agitated, and the endless succession of
leaping, frothing waves between me and the glowing west formed a
picture I shall not soon forget.

I think the excuse that is often made in behalf of American literature,
namely, that our people are too busy with other things yet, and will
show the proper aptitude in this field, too, as soon as leisure is
afforded, is fully justified by events of daily occurrence. Throw a
number of them together without anything else to do, and they at once
communicate to each other the itch of authorship. Confine them on board
an ocean steamer, and by the third or fourth day a large number of them
will break out all over with a sort of literary rash that nothing will
assuage but some newspaper or journalistic enterprise which will give
the poems and essays and jokes with which they are surcharged a chance
to be seen and heard of men. I doubt if the like ever occurs among
travelers of any other nationality. Englishmen or Frenchmen or Germans
want something more warm and human, if less "refined;" but the average
American, when in company, likes nothing so well as an opportunity to
show the national trait of "smartness." There is not a bit of danger
that we shall ever relapse into barbarism while so much latent
literature lies at the bottom of our daily cares and avocations, and is
sure to come to the surface the moment the latter are suspended or

While abreast of New England, and I don't know how many miles at sea,
as I turned in my deck promenade, I distinctly scented the land, a
subtle, delicious odor of farms and homesteads, warm and human, that
floated on the wild sea air, a promise and a token. The broad red line
that had been slowly creeping across our chart for so many weary days,
indicating the path of the ship, had now completely bridged the chasm,
and had got a good purchase down under the southern coast of New
England; and according to the reckoning we ought to have made Sandy
Hook that night; but though the position of the vessel was no doubt
theoretically all right, yet practically she proved to be much farther
out at sea, for all that afternoon and night she held steadily on her
course, and not till next morning did the coast of Long Island, like a
thin, broken cloud just defined on the horizon, come into view. But
before many hours we had passed the Hook, and were moving slowly up the
bay in the midday splendor of the powerful and dazzling light of the
New World sun. And how good things looked to me after even so brief an
absence!--the brilliancy, the roominess, the deep transparent blue of
the sky, the clear, sharp outlines, the metropolitan splendor of New
York, and especially of Broadway; and as I walked up that great
thoroughfare, and noted the familiar physiognomy and the native
nonchalance and independence, I experienced the delight that only the
returned traveler can feel,--the instant preference of one's own
country and countrymen over all the rest of the world.


Blackbird, crow, or purple grackle (Quiscalus quiscula).
Blackbird, European.
Bluebird (Sialia sialis).
Bobolink (Dodichonyx oryzivorus).
Buzzard, or turkey vulture (Cathartes aura).

Cardinal.  See Grosbeak, cardinal.
Cedar-bird, or cedar waxwing (Ampelis cedrorum).
Chickadee (Parus atricapillus).
Creeper, brown (Certhia familiaris americana).
Crow, American (Corvus brachyrhynchos).
Crow, carrion.
Crow, fish (Corvus ossifragus).

Finch, purple (Carpodacus purpureus).
Flicker.  See High-hole.
Fox, Arctic.
Fox, cross.
Fox, gray.
Fox, prairie.
Fox, red.
Fox, silver-gray or black.

Goldfinch, American (Astragalinus  tristis).
Goose, domestic.
Goose, wild or Canada (Branta canadensis).
Grackle, purple.  See Blackbird, crow.
Grosbeak, cardinal, or cardinal, (Cardinalis cardinalis).
Grouse, ruffed.  See Partridge.

Hairbird, or chipping sparrow (Spizella socialis).
Hare, northern.

High-hole, or flicker (Colaptes auratus luteus).

Jay, blue (Cyanocitta cristata).
Jay, European.
Junco, slate-colored.  See Snowbird.
Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus).

Lark.  See Skylark.
Liver-leaf.  See Hepatica.

Meadowlark (Sturnella magna).
Oriole, Baltimore (Icterus galbula).
Oriole, orchard.  See Starling, orchard.
Oven-bird.  See Wood-wagtail.

Partridge, or ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus).
Partridge, European.
Pigeon, passenger (Ectopistes migratorius).
Pipit, American, or titlark (Anthus pensilvanicus).
Plover, English.
Prairie lien (Tympanuchus americanus).
Quail, European.

Robin, American (Merula migratoria).
Robin redbreast.

Skylark on the South Downs.
Snowbird, or slate-colored junco (Junco hyemalis).
Sparrow, chipping.  See Hairbird.
Sparrow, song (Melospiza cinerea melodia).
Sparrow, tree or Canada (Spizella monticola).
Sparrow, vesper (Poaecetes gramineus).
Squirrel, black.
Squirrel, European.
Squirrel, flying.
Squirrel, gray.
Squirrel, red.
Starling, orchard, or orchard oriole (Icterus spurius).
Swallow, English.

Tern, sooty (Sterna fuliginosa).
Thrush, wood (Hylocichla mustelina lira).
Titlark.  Bee Pipit, American.
Trout, brook.
Turkey, domestic.
Vulture, turkey.  See Buzzard.

Warbler, black and white creeping (Mniotilta varia).
Waxwing, cedar.  See Cedar-bird.

Wood-wagtail, or oven-bird (Seiurus aurocapillus).
Wren, winter (Olbiorchilus hiemalis).


[Transcribist's note: John Burroughs used some characters
which are not standard to our writing in 2001.

He used a diaeresis in preeminent, and accented "e"s in
debris and denouement, and in some French words. These have
been replaced with plain English letters.

I substituted the letters "oe" for the ligature, used often
in the word phoebe.  Simularly the "e" in the golden eagle's
scientific name is modernized.

He also used symbols available to a typesetter which are
unavailable to us in ASCII (plain vanilla text) to illustrate
bird calls and notes.  I have replaced these with a description
of what was there originally.

Finally, he used italics throughout the book that I was
unable to retain, because of the ASCII format.  The two
uses of the italics were to denote scientific names and to
emphasize.  I have done nothing to note where the italics were
used, as I don't think it really has a great affect on reading
this book.]

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