List Of Contents | Contents of Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs
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till the animal is run down and caught. This is the only fox that will
tree. When too closely pressed, instead of taking to a den or a hole,
it climbs beyond the reach of the dogs in some small tree.

The red fox is the Northern species, and is rarely found farther south
than the mountainous districts of Virginia. In the Arctic regions it
gives place to the Arctic fox, which most of the season is white.

The prairie fox, the cross fox, and the black or silver-gray fox seem
only varieties of the red fox, as the black squirrel breeds from the
gray, and the black woodchuck is found with the brown. There is little
to distinguish them from the red, except the color, though the prairie
fox is said to be the larger of the two.

The cross fox is dark brown on its muzzle and extremities, with a cross
of red and black on its shoulders and breast, which peculiarity of
coloring, and not any trait in its character, gives it its name. It is
very rare, and few hunters have ever seen one. The American Fur Company
used to obtain annually from fifty to one hundred skins. The skins
formerly sold for twenty-five dollars, though I believe they now bring
only about five dollars.

The black or silver-gray fox is the rarest of all, and its skin the
most valuable. The Indians used to estimate it equal to forty beaver
skins. The great fur companies seldom collect in a single season more
than four or five skins at any one post. Most of those of the American
Fur Company come from the head-waters of the Mississippi. One of the
younger Audubons shot one in northern New York. The fox had been seen
and fired at many times by the hunters of the neighborhood, and had
come to have the reputation of leading a charmed life, and of being
invulnerable to anything but a silver bullet. But Audubon brought her
down (for it was a female) on the second trial. She had a litter of
young in the vicinity, which he also dug out, and found the nest to
hold three black and four red ones, which fact settled the question
with him that black and red often have the same parentage, and are in
truth the same species.

The color of this fox, in a point-blank view, is black, but viewed at
an angle it is a dark silvergray, whence has arisen the notion that the
black and the silver-gray are distinct varieties. The tip of the tail
is always white.

In almost every neighborhood there are traditions of this fox, and it
is the dream of young sportsmen; but I have yet to meet the person who
has seen one. I should go well to the north, into the British
Possessions, if I were bent on obtaining a specimen.

One more item from the books.  From the fact that in the bone caves in
this country skulls of the gray fox are found, but none of the red, it
is inferred by some naturalists that the red fox is a descendant from
the European species, which it resembles in form but surpasses in
beauty, and its appearance on this continent is of comparatively recent



March 1.--The first day of spring and the first spring day!  I felt the
change the moment I put my head out of doors in the morning. A fitful,
gusty south wind was blowing, though the sky was clear. But the
sunlight was not the same. There was an interfusion of a new element.
Not ten days before there had been a day just as bright,--even brighter
and warmer,--a clear, crystalline day of February, with nothing vernal
in it; but this day was opaline; there was a film, a sentiment in it, a
nearer approach to life. Then there was that fresh, indescribable odor,
a breath from the Gulf, or from Florida and the Carolinas,--a subtle,
persuasive influence that thrilled the sense. Every root and rootlet
under ground must have felt it; the buds of the soft maple and silver
poplar felt it, and swelled perceptibly during the day. The robins knew
it, and were here that morning; so were the crow blackbirds. The shad
must have known it, down deep in their marine retreats, and leaped and
sported about the mouths of the rivers, ready to dart up them if the
genial influence continued. The bees in the hive also, or in the old
tree in the woods, no doubt awoke to new life; and the hibernating
animals, the bears and woodchucks, rolled up in their subterranean
dens,--I imagine the warmth reached even them, and quickened their
sluggish circulation.

Then in the afternoon there was the smell of smoke,--the first spring
fires in the open air. The Virginia farmer is raking together the
rubbish in his garden, or in the field he is preparing for the plow,
and burning it up. In imagination I am there to help him. I see the
children playing about, delighted with the sport and the resumption of
work; the smoke goes up through the shining haze; the farmhouse door
stands open, and lets in the afternoon sun; the cow lows for her calf,
or hides it in the woods; and in the morning the geese, sporting in the
spring-sun, answer the call of the wild flock steering northward above

As I stroll through the market I see the signs here.  That old colored
woman has brought spring in her basket in those great green flakes of
moss, with arbutus showing the pink; and her old man is just in good
time with his fruit trees and gooseberry bushes. Various bulbs and
roots are also being brought out and offered, and the onions are
sprouting on the stands. I see bunches of robins and cedar-birds
also,--so much melody and beauty cut off from the supply going north.
The fish-market is beginning to be bright with perch and bass, and with
shad from the Southern rivers, and wild ducks are taking the place of
prairie hens and quails.

In the Carolinas, no doubt, the fruit trees are in bloom, and the rice
land is being prepared for the seed. In the mountains of Virginia and
in Ohio they are making maple sugar; in Kentucky and Tennessee they are
sowing oats; in Illinois they are, perchance, husking the corn which
has remained on the stalk in the field all winter. Wild geese and ducks
are streaming across the sky from the lower Mississippi toward the
great lakes, pausing awhile on the prairies, or alighting in the great
cornfields, making the air resound with the noise of their wings upon
the stalks and dry shucks as they resume their journey. About this
time, or a little later, in the still spring morning, the prairie hens
or prairie cocks set up that low, musical cooing or crowing that defies
the ear to trace or locate. The air is filled with that soft,
mysterious undertone; and, save that a bird is seen here and there
flitting low over the ground, the sportsman walks for hours without
coming any nearer the source of the elusivc sound.

All over a certain belt of the country the rivers and streams are
roily, and chafe their banks. There is a movement of the soils. The
capacity of the water to take up and hold in solution the salt and
earths seemed never so great before. The frost has relinquished its
hold, and turned everything over to the water. Mud is the mother now;
and out of it creep the frogs, the turtles, the crawfish.

In the North how goes the season?  The winter is perchance just
breaking up. The old frost king is just striking, or preparing to
strike, his tents. The ice is going out of the rivers, and the first
steamboat on the Hudson is picking its way through the blue lanes and
channels. The white gulls are making excursions up from the bay, to see
what the prospects are. In the lumber countries, along the upper
Kennebec and Penobscot, and along the northern Hudson, starters are at
work with their pikes and hooks starting out the pine logs on the first
spring freshet. All winter, through the deep snows, they have been
hauling them to the bank of the stream, or placing them where the tide
would reach them. Now, in countless, numbers, beaten and bruised, the
trunks of the noble trees come, borne by the angry flood. The snow that
furnishes the smooth bed over which they were drawn, now melted,
furnishes the power that carries them down to the mills. On the
Delaware the raftsmen are at work running out their rafts. Floating
islands of logs and lumber go down the swollen stream, bending over the
dams, shooting through the rapids, and bringing up at last in
Philadelphia or beyond.

In the inland farming districts what are the signs?  Few and faint, but
very suggestive. The sun has power to melt the snow; and in the meadows
all the knolls are bare, and the sheep are gnawing them industriously.
The drifts on the side-hills also begin to have a worn and dirty look,
and, where they cross the highway, to become soft, letting the teams in
up to their bellies. The oxen labor and grunt, or patiently wait for
the shovel to release them; but the spirited horse leaps and flounders,
and is determined not to give up. In the woods the snow is melted
around the trees, and the burrs and pieces of bark have absorbed the
heat till they have sunk halfway through to the ground. The snow is
melting on the under side; the frost is going out of the ground: now
comes the trial of your foundations.

About the farm buildings there awakens the old familiar chorus, the
bleating of calves and lambs, and the answering bass of their
distressed mothers; while the hens are cackling in the hay-loft, and
the geese are noisy in the spring run. But the most delightful of all
farm work, or of all rural occupations, is at hand, namely,
sugar-making. In New York and northern New England the beginning of
this season varies from the first to the middle of March, sometimes
even holding off till April. The moment the contest between the sun and
frost fairly begins, sugar weather begins; and the more even the
contest, the more the sweet. I do not know what the philosophy of it
is, but it seems a kind of see-saw, as if the sun drew the sap up and
the frost drew it down; and an excess of either stops the flow. Before
the sun has got power to unlock the frost, there is no sap; and after
the frost has lost its power to lock up again the work of the sun,
there is no sap. But when it freezes soundly at night, with a bright,
warm sun next day, wind in the west, and no signs of a storm, the veins
of the maples fairly thrill. Pierce the bark anywhere, and out gushes
the clear, sweet liquid. But let the wind change to the south and blow
moist and warm, destroying that crispness of the air, and the flow
slackens at once, unless there be a deep snow in the woods to
counteract or neutralize the warmth, in which case the run may continue
till the rain sets in. The rough-coated old trees,--one would not think
they could scent a change so quickly through that wrapper of dead, dry
bark an inch or more thick. I have to wait till I put my head out of
doors, and feel the air on my bare cheek, and sniff it with my nose;
but their nerves of taste and smell are no doubt under ground, imbedded
in the moisture, and if there is anything that responds quickly to
atmospheric changes, it is water. Do not the fish, think you, down deep
in the streams, feel every wind that blows, whether it be hot or cold?
Do not the frogs and newts and turtles under the mud feel the warmth,
though the water still seems like ice? As the springs begin to rise in
advance of the rain, so the intelligence of every change seems to
travel ahead under ground and forewarn things.

A "sap-run" seldom lasts more than two or three days.  By that time
there is a change in the weather, perhaps a rainstorm, which takes the
frost nearly all out of the ground. Then, before there can be another
run, the trees must be wound up again, the storm must have a white
tail, and "come off" cold. Presently the sun rises clear again, and
cuts the snow or softens the hard-frozen ground with his beams, and the
trees take a fresh start. The boys go through the wood, emptying out
the buckets or the pans, and reclaiming those that have blown away, and
the delightful work is resumed. But the first run, like first love, is
always the best, always the fullest, always the sweetest; while there
is a purity and delicacy of flavor about the sugar that far surpasses
any subsequent yield.

Trees differ much in the quantity as well as in the quality of sap
produced in a given season. Indeed, in a bush or orchard of fifty or
one hundred trees, as wide a difference may be observed in this respect
as among that number of cows in regard to the milk they yield. I have
in my mind now a "sugar-bush" nestled in the lap of a spur of the
Catskills, every tree of which is known to me, and assumes a distinct
individuality in my thought. I know the look and quality of the whole
two hundred; and when on my annual visit to the old homestead I find
one has perished, or fallen before the axe, I feel a personal loss.
They are all veterans, and have yielded up their life's blood for the
profit of two or three generations. They stand in little groups for
couples. One stands at the head of a spring-run, and lifts a large dry
branch high above the woods, where hawks and crows love to alight. Half
a dozen are climbing a little hill; while others stand far out in the
field, as if they had come out to get the sun. A file of five or six
worthies sentry the woods on the northwest, and confront a steep
side-hill where sheep and cattle graze. An equal number crowd up to the
line on the east; and their gray, stately trunks are seen across
meadows or fields of grain. Then there is a pair of Siamese twins, with
heavy, bushy tops; while in the forks of a wood-road stand the two
brothers, with their arms around each other's neck, and their bodies in
gentle contact for a distance of thirty feet.

One immense maple, known as the "old-creampan-tree," stands, or did
stand, quite alone among a thick growth of birches and beeches. But it
kept its end up, and did the work of two or three ordinary trees, as
its name denotes. Next to it, the best milcher in the lot was a
shaggy-barked tree in the edge of the field, that must have been badly
crushed or broken when it was little, for it had an ugly crook near the
ground, and seemed to struggle all the way up to get in an upright
attitude, but never quite succeeded; yet it could outrun all its
neighbors nevertheless. The poorest tree in the lot was a shortbodied,
heavy-topped tree that stood in the edge of a spring-run. It seldom
produced half a gallon of sap during the whole season; but this half
gallon was very sweet,--three or four times as sweet as the ordinary
article. In the production of sap, top seems far less important than
body. It is not length of limb that wins in this race, but length of
trunk. A heavy, bushy-topped tree in the open field, for instance, will
not, according to my observation, compare with a tall, long-trunked
tree in the woods, that has but a small top. Young, thrifty,
thin-skinned trees start up with great spirit, indeed, fairly on a run;
but they do not hold out, and their blood is very diluted. Cattle are
very fond of sap; so are sheep, and will drink enough to kill them. The
honey-bees get here their first sweet, and the earliest bug takes up
his permanent abode on the "spile." The squirrels also come timidly
down the trees, and sip the sweet flow; and occasionally an ugly

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