LETTER XIII.

Health enjoyed in the rigour of Winter. -- Inconvenience suffered from the brightness of the Snow. -- Sleighing. -- Indian Orthography. -- Visit to an Indian Encampment. -- Story of an Indian. -- An Indian Hunchback. -- Canadian Ornithology.

Lake Cottage, March 14, 1834.

I RECEIVED your affectionate and interesting letter only last night. Owing to an error in the direction, it had made the round of two townships before it reached Peterborough; and though it bore as many new directions as the sailor's knife did new blades and handles, it did at last reach me, and was not less prized for its travelling dress, being somewhat the worse for wear.

I rejoiced to hear of your returning health and increased happiness -- may they long continue. Your expressions of regret for my exile, as you term my residence in this country, affected me greatly. Let the assurance that I am not less happy than when I left my native land, console you for my absence. If my situation be changed, my heart is not. My spirits are as light as ever, and at times I feel a gaiety that bids defiance to all care.

You say you fear the rigours of the Canadian winter will kill me. I never enjoyed better health, nor so good, as since it commenced. There is a degree of spirit and vigour infused into one's blood by the purity of the air that is quite exhilarating. The very snow seems whiter and more beautiful than it does in our damp, vapoury climate. During a keen bright winter's day you will often perceive the air filled with minute frozen particles, which are quite dry, and slightly prick your face like needle-points, while the sky is blue and bright above you. There is a decided difference between the first snow-falls and those of mid-winter; the first are in large soft flakes, and seldom remain long without thawing, but those that fall after the cold has regularly set in are smaller, drier, and of the most beautiful forms, sometimes pointed like a cluster of rays, or else feathered in the most exquisite manner.

I find my eyes much inconvenienced by the dazzling glitter of the snow on bright sunny days, so as to render my sight extremely dull and indistinct for hours after exposure to its power. I would strongly advise any one coming out to this country to provide themselves with blue or green glasses; and by no means to omit green crape or green tissue veils. Poor Moses' gross of green spectacles would not have proved so bad a spec. in Canada*.

[* Oculists condemn coloured spectacles, as injuring weak eyes by the heat which they occasion. Coloured gauze or coloured shades are preferable. -- Ed.]

Some few nights ago as I was returning from visiting a sick friend, I was delighted by the effect produced by the frost. The earth, the trees, every stick, dried leaf, and stone in my path was glittering with mimic diamonds, as if touched by some magical power; objects the most rude and devoid of beauty had suddenly assumed a brilliancy that was dazzling beyond the most vivid fancy to conceive; every frozen particle sent forth rays of bright light. You might have imagined yourself in Sinbad's valley of gems; nor was the temperature of the air at all unpleasantly cold.

I have often felt the sensation of cold on a windy day in Britain far more severe than I have done in Canada, when the mercury indicated a much lower degree of temperature. There is almost a trance-like stillness in the air during our frosty nights that lessens the unpleasantness of the sensation.

There are certainly some days of intense cold during our winter, but this low temperature seldom continues more than three days together. The coldest part of the day is from an hour or two before sunrise to about nine o'clock in the morning; by that time our blazing log-fires or metal stoves have warmed the house, so that you really do not care for the cold without. When out of doors you suffer less inconvenience than you would imagine whilst you keep in motion, and are tolerably well clothed: the ears and nose are the most exposed to injury.

Gentlemen sometimes make a singular appearance coming in from a long journey, that if it were not for pity's sake would draw from you a smile; -- hair, whiskers, eyebrows, eyelashes, beard, all incrusted with hoar-frost. I have seen young ladies going to evening parties with clustering ringlets, as jetty as your own, changed by the breath of Father Frost to silvery whiteness; so that you could almost fancy the fair damsels had been suddenly metamorphosed to their ancient grannies; fortunately for youth and beauty such change is but transitory.

In the towns and populous parts of the province the approach of winter is hailed with delight instead of dread; it is to all a season of leisure and enjoyment. Travelling is then expeditiously and pleasantly performed; even our vile bush-roads become positively very respectable; and if you should happen to be overturned once or twice during a journey of pleasure, very little danger attends such an event, and very little compassion is bestowed on you for your tumble in the snow; so it is wisest to shake off your light burden and enjoy the fun with a good grace if you can.

Sleighing is certainly a very agreeable mode of travelling; the more snow, the better the sleighing season is considered; and the harder it becomes, the easier the motion of the vehicle. The horses are all adorned with strings of little brass bells about their necks or middles. The merry jingle of these bells is far from disagreeable, producing a light, lively sound.

The following lines I copied from the New York Albion for you; I think you will be pleased with them:--

SLEIGH BELLS.

'Tis merry to hear at evening time By the blazing hearth the sleigh-bells chime; To know each bound of the steed brings near The form of him to our bosoms dear; Lightly we spring the fire to raise, Till the rafters glow with the ruddy blaze.

'Tis he -- and blithely the gay bells sound, As his steed skims over the frozen ground. Hark! he has pass'd the gloomy wood; He crosses now the ice-bound flood, And sees the light from the open door, To hail his toilsome journey o'er.

Our hut is small and rude our cheer, But love has spread the banquet here; And childhood springs to be caress'd By our beloved and welcome guest; With smiling brow his tale he tells, They laughing ring the merry bells.

From the cedar swamp the wolf may howl, From the blasted pine loud whoop the owl; The sudden crash of the falling tree Are sounds of terror no more to me; No longer I list with boding fear, The sleigh-bells' merry peal to hear*.

[* This little poem by Mrs. Moodie has since been printed in a volume of "Friendship's Offering," with some alterations by the editor that deprive it a good deal of the simplicity of the original.]

As soon as a sufficient quantity of snow has fallen all vehicles of every description, from the stage-coach to the wheelbarrow, are supplied with wooden runners, shod with iron, after the manner of skates. The usual equipages for travelling are the double sleigh, light waggon, and cutter; the two former are drawn by two horses abreast, but the latter, which is by far the most elegant-looking, has but one, and answers more to our gig or chaise.

Wrapped up in buffalo robes you feel no inconvenience from the cold, excepting to your face, which requires to be defended by a warm beaver or fur bonnet; the latter, I am surprised to find, is seldom if ever worn, from the nonsensical reason that it is not the fashion. The red, grey, and black squirrels are abundant in our woods; the musk-rat inhabits little houses that he builds in the rushy parts of the lakes: these dwellings are formed of the roots of sedges, sticks, and other materials of a similar nature, and plastered with mud, over which a thick close thatch is raised to the height of a foot or more above the water; they are of a round or dome-shape, and are distinctly visible from the shore at some distance. The Indians set traps to ensnare these creatures in their houses, and sell their skins, which are very thick and glossy towards winter. The beaver, the bear, the black lynx, and foxes are also killed, and brought to the stores by the hunters, where the skins are exchanged for goods or money.

The Indians dress the deer-skins for making mocassins, which are greatly sought after by the settlers in these parts; they are very comfortable in snowy weather, and keep the feet very warm, but you require several wrappings of cloth round the feet before you put them on. I wore a beautiful pair all last winter, worked with porcupine-quills and bound with scarlet ribbon; these elegant mocassins were the handicraft of an old squaw, the wife of Peter the hunter: you have already heard of him in my former letters. I was delighted with a curious specimen of Indian orthography that accompanied the mocassins, in the form of a note, which I shall transcribe for your edification:--

SIR,

Pleas if you would give something; you must git in ordir in store is woyth (worth) them mocsin, porcupine quill on et. One dollers foure yard.

[Illustration: The Prairie]

This curious billet was the production of the hunter's eldest son, and is meant to intimate that if I would buy the mocassins the price was one dollar, or an order on one of the stores for four yards of calico; for so the squaw interpreted its meaning. The order for four yards of printed cotton was delivered over to Mrs. Peter, who carefully pinned it within the folds of her blanket, and departed well satisfied with the payment. And this reminds me of our visit to the Indian's camp last week. Feeling some desire to see these singular people in their winter encampment, I expressed my wish to S------, who happens to be a grand favourite with the old hunter and his family; as a mark of a distinction they have bestowed on him the title of Chippewa, the name of their tribe. He was delighted with the opportunity of doing the honours of the Indian wigwam, and it was agreed that he, with some of his brothers and sisters-in-law, who happened to be on a visit at his house, should come and drink tea with us and accompany us to the camp in the woods.

A merry party we were that sallied forth that evening into the glorious starlight; the snow sparkled with a thousand diamonds on its frozen surface, over which we bounded with hearts as light as hearts could be in this careful world. And truly never did I look upon a lovelier sight than the woods presented; there had been a heavy fall of snow the preceding day; owing to the extreme stillness of the air not a particle of it had been shaken from the trees. The evergreens were bending beneath their brilliant burden; every twig, every leaf, and spray was covered, and some of the weak saplings actually bowed down to the earth with the weight of snow, forming the most lovely and fanciful bowers and arcades across our path. As you looked up towards the tops of the trees the snowy branches seen against the deep blue sky formed a silvery veil, through which the bright stars were gleaming with a chastened brilliancy.

I was always an admirer of a snowy landscape, but neither in this country nor at home did I ever see any thing so surpassingly lovely as the forest appeared that night.

Leaving the broad road we struck into a bye-path, deep tracked by the Indians, and soon perceived the wigwam by the red smoke that issued from the open basket-work top of the little hut. This is first formed with light poles, planted round so as to enclose a circle of ten or twelve feet in diameter; between these poles are drawn large sheets of birch bark both within and without, leaving an opening of the bare poles at the top so as to form an outlet for the smoke; the outer walls were also banked up with snow, so as to exclude the air entirely from beneath.

Some of our party, who were younger and lighter of foot than we sober married folks, ran on before; so that when the blanket, that served the purpose of a door, was unfastened, we found a motley group of the dark skins and the pale faces reposing on the blankets and skins that were spread round the walls of the wigwam.

The swarthy complexions, shaggy black hair, and singular costume of the Indians formed a striking contrast with the fair-faced Europeans that were mingled with them, seen as they were by the red and fitful glare of the wood-fire that occupied the centre of the circle. The deer-hounds lay stretched in indolent enjoyment, close to the embers, while three or four dark-skinned little urchins were playing with each other, or angrily screaming out their indignation against the apish tricks of the hunchback, my old acquaintance Maquin, that Indian Flibberty-gibbet, whose delight appeared to be in teazing and tormenting the little papouses, casting as he did so sidelong glances of impish glee at the guests, while as quick as thought his features assumed an impenetrable gravity when the eyes of his father or the squaws seemed directed towards his tricks.

There was a slight bustle among the party when we entered one by one through the low blanket-doorway. The merry laugh rang round among our friends, which was echoed by more than one of the Indian men, and joined by the peculiar half-laugh or chuckle of the squaws. "Chippewa" was directed to a post of honour beside the hunter Peter; and squaw Peter, with an air of great good humour, made room for me on a corner of her own blanket; to effect which two papouses and a hound were sent lamenting to the neighbourhood of the hunchback Maquin.

The most attractive persons in the wigwam were two Indian girls, one about eighteen, Jane, the hunter's eldest daughter, and her cousin Margaret. I was greatly struck with the beauty of Jane; her features were positively fine, and though of gipsey darkness the tint of vermilion on her cheek and lip rendered it, if not beautiful, very attractive. Her hair, which was of jetty blackness, was soft and shining, and was neatly folded over her forehead, not hanging loose and disorderly in shaggy masses, as is generally the case with the squaws. Jane was evidently aware of her superior charms, and may be considered as an Indian belle, by the peculiar care she displayed in the arrangement of the black cloth mantle, bound with scarlet, that was gracefully wrapped over one shoulder, and fastened at her left side with a gilt brooch. Margaret was younger, of lower stature, and though lively and rather pretty, yet wanted the quiet dignity of her cousin; she had more of the squaw in face and figure. The two girls occupied a blanket by themselves, and were busily engaged in working some most elegant sheaths of deer-skin, richly wrought over with coloured quills and beads: they kept the beads and quills in a small tin baking-pan on their knees; but my old squaw (as I always call Mrs. Peter) held her porcupine-quills in her mouth, and the fine dried sinews of the deer, which they make use of instead of thread in work of this sort, in her bosom.

On my expressing a desire to have some of the porcupine-quills, she gave me a few of different colour that she was working a pair of mocassins with, but signified that she wanted "'bead' to work mocsin," by which I understood I was to give some in exchange for the quills. Indians never give since they have learned to trade with white men.

She was greatly delighted with the praises I bestowed on Jane. She told me Jane was soon to marry the young Indian who sat on one side of her in all the pride of a new blanket coat, red sash, embroidered powder-pouch, and great gilt clasps to the collar of his coat, which looked as warm and as white as a newly washed fleece. The old squaw evidently felt proud of the young couple as she gazed on them, and often repeated, with a good-tempered laugh, "Jane's husband -- marry by and by."

We had so often listened with pleasure to the Indians singing their hymns of a Sunday night that I requested some of them to sing to us; the old hunter nodded assent; and, without removing his pipe, with the gravity and phlegm of a Dutchman, issued his commands, which were as instantly obeyed by the younger part of the community, and a chorus of rich voices filled the little hut with a melody that thrilled to our very hearts.

The hymn was sung in the Indian tongue, a language that is peculiarly sweet and soft in its cadences, and seems to be composed with many vowels. I could not but notice the modest air of the girls; as if anxious to avoid observation that they felt was attracted by their sweet voices, they turned away from the gaze of the strangers, facing each other and bending their heads down over the work they still held in their hands. The attitude, which is that of the Eastern nations; the dress, dark hair and eyes, the olive complexion, heightened colour, and meek expression of face, would have formed a study for a painter. I wish you could have witnessed the scene; I think you would not easily have forgotten it. I was pleased with the air of deep reverence that sat on the faces of the elders of the Indian family, as they listened to the voices of their children singing praise and glory to the God and Saviour they had learned to fear and love.

The Indians seem most tender parents; it is pleasing to see the affectionate manner in which they treat their young children, fondly and gently caressing them with eyes overflowing and looks of love. During the singing each papouse crept to the feet of its respective father and mother, and those that were too young to join their voices to the little choir, remained quite silent till the hymn was at an end. One little girl, a fat brown roly-poly, of three years old, beat time on her father's knee, and from time to time chimed in her infant voice; she evidently possessed a fine ear and natural taste for music.

I was at a loss to conceive where the Indians kept their stores, clothes, and other moveables, the wigwam being so small that there seemed no room for any thing besides themselves and their hounds. Their ingenuity, however, supplied the want of room, and I soon discovered a plan that answered all the purposes of closets, bags, boxes, &c., the inner lining of birch-bark being drawn between the poles so as to form hollow pouches all round; in these pouches were stowed their goods; one set held their stock of dried deer's flesh, another dried fish, a third contained some flat cakes, which I have been told they bake in a way peculiar to themselves, with hot ashes over and under; for my part I think they must be far from palatable so seasoned. Their dressed skins, clothes, materials for their various toys, such as beads, quills, bits of cloth, silk, with a thousand other miscellaneous articles, occupied the rest of these reservoirs.

Though open for a considerable space at the top, the interior of the wigwam was so hot, I could scarcely breathe, and was constrained to throw off all my wrappings during the time we staid. Before we went away the hunter insisted on showing us a game, which was something after the manner of our cup and ball, only more complicated, and requires more sleight of hand: the Indians seemed evidently well pleased at our want of adroitness. They also showed us another game, which was a little like nine-pins, only the number of sticks stuck in the ground was greater. I was unable to stay to see the little rows of sticks knocked out, as the heat of the wigwam oppressed me almost to suffocation, and I was glad to feel myself once more breathing the pure air.

In any other climate one would scarcely have undergone such sudden extremes of temperature without catching a severe cold; but fortunately that distressing complaint catchee le cold, as the Frenchman termed it, is not so prevalent in Canada as at home.

Some twenty years ago, while a feeling of dread still existed in the minds of the British settlers towards the Indians, from the remembrance of atrocities committed during the war of independence, a poor woman, the widow of a settler who occupied a farm in one of the then but thinly-settled townships back of the Ontario, was alarmed by the sudden appearance of an Indian within the walls of her log-hut. He had entered so silently that it was not till he planted himself before the blazing fire that he was perceived by the frightened widow and her little ones, who retreated, trembling with ill-concealed terror to the furthest corner of the room.

Without seeming to notice the dismay which his appearance had excited, the Indian proceeded to disencumber himself from his hunting accoutrements; he then unfastened his wet mocassins, which he hung up to dry, plainly intimating his design was to pass the night beneath their roof, it being nearly dark, and snowing heavily.

Scarcely daring to draw an audible breath, the little group watched the movements of their unwelcome guest. Imagine their horror when they beheld him take from his girdle a hunting-knife, and deliberately proceed to try its edge. After this his tomahawk and rifle underwent a similar examination.

The despair of the horror-stricken mother was now approaching a climax. She already beheld in idea the frightful mangled corpses of her murdered children upon that hearth which had so often been the scene of their innocent gambols. Instinctively she clasped the two youngest to her breast at a forward movement of the Indian. With streaming eyes she was about to throw herself at his feet, as he advanced towards her with the dreaded weapons in his hands, and implore his mercy for herself and her babes. What then was her surprise and joy when he gently laid the rifle, knife, and tomahawk beside her, signifying by this action that she had nothing to fear at his hands*.

[* It is almost an invariable custom now for the Indians on entering a dwelling-house to leave all their weapons, as rife, tomahawk, &c., outside the door, even if the weather be ever so wet; as they consider it unpolite to enter a family dwelling armed.]

A reprieve to a condemned criminal at the moment previous to his execution was not more welcome than this action of the Indian to the poor widow. Eager to prove her confidence and her gratitude at the same time, she hastened to prepare food for the refreshment of the now no longer dreaded guest; and, assisted by the eldest of her children, put clean sheets and the best blankets on her own bed, which she joyfully devoted to the accommodation of the stranger. An expressive "Hugh! hugh!" was the only reply to this act of hospitality; but when he went to take possession of his luxurious couch he seemed sorely puzzled. It was evident the Indian had never seen, and certainly never reposed on, an European bed. After a mute examination of the bed-clothes for some minutes, with a satisfied laugh, he sprang upon the bed, and, curling himself up like a dog, in a few minutes was sound asleep.

By dawn of day the Indian had departed; but whenever he came on the hunting-grounds in the neighbourhood of the widow, she was sure to see him. The children, no longer terrified at his swarthy countenance and warlike weapons, would gather round his knees, admire the feathered pouch that contained his shot, finger the beautiful embroidered sheath that held the hunting-knife, or the finely-worked mocassins and leggings; whilst he would pat their heads, and bestow upon them an equal share of caresses with his deer-hounds.

Such was the story related to me by a young missionary. I thought it might prove not uninteresting, as a trait of character of one of these singular people. Chiboya (for that was the name of the Indian) was one of the Chippewas of Rice Lake, most of whom are now converts to Christianity, and making considerable advancement in civilisation and knowledge of agriculture. Hunting and fishing, however, appear to be their favourite pursuits: for these they leave the comfortable houses at the Indian villages, and return at stated times to their forest haunts. I believe it is generally considered that their numbers are diminishing, and some tribes have become nearly if not totally extinct in the Canadas*. The race is slowly passing away from the face of the earth, or mingling by degrees with the colonists, till, a few centuries hence, even the names of their tribes will scarcely remain to tell that they once existed.

[* It is stated that the North-West Company had a census of all the tribes, and that the whole Indian population of that immense continent did not now exceed 100,000 souls. In a Parliamentary document of 1834, the Indians of Lower Canada are estimated at 3,437, and those of Upper Canada at 13,700, which latter number is stated to include those on the shores of Lake Huron, and to the westward.-Ed.]

When next you send a box or parcel, let me have a few good tracts and hymn-books; as they prize a gift of this sort extremely. I send you a hymn, the one they sang to us in the wigwam; it is the Indian translation, and written by the hunter, Peter's eldest son: he was delighted when I told him I wanted him to copy it for me, that I might send it across the seas to my own country, that English people might see how well Indians could write.

[Illustration: Red-bird]

[Illustration: Blue-bird]

The hunchback Maquin has made me a miniature canoe of birch-bark, which I send; you will prize it as a curiosity, and token of remembrance. The red and black squirrel-skins are for Jane; the feather fans, and papers of feathers, for Sarah. Tell the latter the next time I send a packet home, she shall have specimens fit for stuffing of our splendid red-bird, which, I am sure, is the Virginian nightingale; it comes in May or April, and leaves us late in the summer: it exactly corresponds to a stuffed Virginian nightingale that I saw in a fine collection of American birds. The blue-bird is equally lovely, and migrates much about the same time; the plumage is of a celestial blue; but I have never seen one otherwise than upon the wing, so cannot describe it minutely. The cross-bills are very pretty; the male and female quite opposite in colour, one having a lovely mixture of scarlet and orange on the breast and back, shading into greenish olive and brown; the other more like our yellowhammer, only it is not quite so bright in colour, though much softer, and more innocent-looking: they come to our windows and doors in the winter as familiarly as your robins. During the winter most of our birds depart; even the hollow tapping of the red-headed and the small speckled grey and white woodpecker ceases to be heard; the sharp chittering of the squirrel, too, is seldomer distinguished; and silence, awful and unbroken silence, reigns in the forest during the season of midwinter.

I had well nigh forgotten my little favourites, a species of the titmouse, that does not entirely forsake us. Of a bright warm, sunny day we see flocks of these tiny birds swinging among the feathery sprigs of the hemlocks or shrubby pines on the plains or in the forest; and many a time have I stayed my steps to watch their playful frolics, and listen to their gay warbling. I am not quite certain, but I think this is the same little bird that is known among the natives by the name of Thit-a-be-bee; its note, though weak, and with few changes, is not unpleasing; and we prize it from its being almost the only bird that sings during the winter.

I had heard much of the snow-bunting, but never had seen it till the other day, and then not near enough to mark its form or colours. The day was one of uncommon brilliancy; the sky cloudless, and the air almost warm; when, looking towards the lake, I was surprised by the appearance of one of the pine-trees near the shore: it seemed as if covered with stars of silver that twinkled and sparkled against the blue sky. I was so charmed by the novelty, that I ran out to observe them nearer; when, to my surprise, my stars all took flight to another tree, where, by the constant waving and fluttering of their small white wings against the sunlight, they produced the beautiful effect that had at first attracted my observation: soon all the pines within sight of the window were illuminated by these lovely creatures. About mid-day they went away, and I have seen them but once since. They never lit on the ground, or any low tree or bough, for me to examine them nearer.

Of our singing-birds, the robin; the blackbird, and a tiny bird, like our common wren, are those I am most intimate with. The Canadian robin is much larger than our dear robin at home; he is too coarse and large a bird to realize the idea of our little favourite, "the household-bird with the red stomacher," as he is called by Bishop-Carey, in a sonnet addressed to Elizabeth, the daughter of James I., on her marriage with the unfortunate Frederic Prince Palatine.

The song of the Canadian robin is by no means despicable; its notes are clear, sweet, and various; it possesses the same cheerful lively character that distinguishes the carol of its namesake; but the general habits of the bird are very dissimilar. The Canadian robin is less sociable with man, but more so with his own species: they assemble in flocks soon after the breeding season is over, and appear very amicable one to another; but seldom, if ever, approach very near to our dwelling. The breast is of a pinkish, salmon colour; the head black; the back of a sort of bluish steel, or slate colour; in size they are as big as a thrush.

[Illustration: Snow-Bunting]

The blackbird is perhaps our best songster, according to my taste; full as fine as our English blackbird, and much handsomer in its plumage, which is a glossy, changeable, greenish black. The upper part of the wing of the male bird of full growth is of a lively orange; this is not apparent in the younger birds, nor in the female, which is slightly speckled.

Towards the middle of the summer, when the grain begins to ripen, these birds assemble in large flocks: the management of their marauding parties appears to be superintended by the elders of the family. When they are about to descend upon a field of oats or wheat, two or three mount guard as sentinels, and on the approach of danger, cry Geck-geck-geck; this precaution seems a work of supererogation, as they are so saucy that they will hardly be frightened away; and if they rise it is only to alight on the same field at a little distance, or fly up to the trees, where their look-out posts are.

They have a peculiarly melancholy call-note at times, which sounds exactly like the sudden twang of a harp-string, vibrating for a second or two on the ear. This, I am inclined to think, they use to collect their distant comrades, as I have never observed it when they were all in full assembly, but when a few were sitting in some tree near the lake's edge. I have called them the "harpers" from this peculiar note. I shall tire you with my ornithological sketches, but must enumerate two or three more birds.

The bald eagle frequently flies over our clearing; it has a dark body, and snow-white head. It is sometimes troublesome to the poultry-yards: those we have seen have disdained such low game, and soared majestically away across the lake.

The fish-hawk we occasionally see skimming the surface of the water, and it is regarded as an enemy by those who take delight in spearing fish upon the lakes.

Then we have the night or mosquito-hawk, which may be seen in the air pursuing the insect tribe in the higher regions, whilst hundreds of great dragonflies pursue them below; notwithstanding their assistance, we are bitten mercilessly by those summer pests the mosquitoes and black flies.

The red-headed woodpecker is very splendid; the head and neck being of a rich crimson; the back, wings, and breast are divided between the most snowy white and jetty black. The incessant tapping of the woodpeckers, and the discordant shriek of the blue jay, are heard from sunrise to sunset, as soon as the spring is fairly set in.

I found a little family of woodpeckers last spring comfortably nested in an old pine, between the bark and the trunk of the tree, where the former had started away, and left a hollow space, in which the old birds had built a soft but careless sort of nest; the little creatures seemed very happy, poking their funny bare heads out to greet the old ones, who were knocking away at the old stumps in their neighbourhood to supply their cravings, as busy as so many carpenters at work.

[Illustration: Baltimore Oriole defending her Nest against the Black Snake.]

A very curious bird's-nest was given me by one of our choppers; it was woven over a forked spray, so that it had all the appearance of having been sewn to the bough with grey thread. The nest was only secured at the two sides that formed the angle, but so strong was it fastened that it seemed to resist any weight or pressure of a moderate kind; it was composed of the fibres of the bass-wood bark; which are very thready, and may be drawn to great fineness: on the whole it was a curious specimen of the ingenuity of these admirable little architects. I could not discover the builder; but rather suspect the nest to have belonged to my protege, the little winter titmouse that I told you of.

The nest of the Canadian robin, which I discovered while seeking for a hen's nest in a bush-heap, just at the further edge of the clearing, is very much like our home-robin's, allowing something for difference of size in the bird, and in the material; the eggs, five in number, were deep blue.

Before I quit the subject of birds, I must recall to your remembrance the little houses that the Americans build for the swallow; I have since found out one of their great reasons for cherishing this useful bird. It appears that a most rooted antipathy exists between this species and the hawk tribe, and no hawk will abide their neighbourhood; as they pursue them for miles, annoying them in every possible way, haunting the hawk like its evil genius: it is most singular that so small a creature should thus overcome one that is the formidable enemy of so many of the feathered race. I should have been somewhat sceptical on the subject, had I not myself been an eyewitness to the fact. I was looking out of my window one bright summer-day, when I noticed a hawk of a large description flying heavily along the lake, uttering cries of distress; within a yard or two of it was a small -- in the distance it appeared to me a very small -- bird pursuing it closely, and also screaming. I watched this strange pair till the pine-wood hid them from my sight; and I often marvelled at the circumstance, till a very intelligent French Canadian traveller happened to name the fact, and said so great was the value placed on these birds, that they had been sold at high prices to be sent to different parts of the province. They never forsake their old haunts when once naturalized, the same pairs constantly returning year after year, to their old house.

The singular fact of these swallows driving the hawk from his haunts is worthy of attention; as it is well authenticated, and adds one more to the many interesting and surprising anecdotes recorded by naturalists of the sagacity and instinct of these birds.

I have, however, scribbled so many sheets, that I fear my long letter must weary you.

Adieu.

Prev Page Table of Contents Top of Page Next Page