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looks good and smells good; every farmer's house and barn looks inviting; the children on the way to school with their dinner-pails in their handshow they open a door into the past for you! Sometimes they have sprays of arbutus in their buttonholes, or bunches of hepatica. The partridge is drumming in the woods, and the woodpeckers are drumming on dry limbs.
The day is veiled, but we catch such glimpses through the veil. The bees are getting pollen from the pussy-willows and soft maples, and the first honey from the arbutus.
It is at this time that the fruit and seed catalogues are interesting reading, and that the cuts of farm implements have a new fascination. The soil calls to one. All over the country, people are responding to the call, and are buying farms and moving upon them. My father and mother moved upon their farm in the spring of 1828; I moved here upon mine in March, 1874.
I see the farmers, now going along their stone fences and replacing the stones that the frost or the sheep and cattle have thrown off, and here and there laying up a bit of wall that has tumbled down. There is rare music now in the unmusical call of the phobe-bird-it is so suggestive.
The drying road appeals to one as it never does at any other season. When I was a farm-boy, it was about this time that I used to get out of my
boots for half an hour and let my bare feet feel the ground beneath them once more. There was a smooth, dry, level place in the road near home, and along this I used to run, and exult in that sense of lightfootedness which is so keen at such times. What a feeling of freedom, of emancipation, and of joy in the returning spring I used to experience in those warm April twilights!
I think every man whose youth was spent on the farm, whatever his life since, must have moments at this season when he longs to go back to the soil. How its sounds, its odors, its occupations, its associations, come back to him! Would he not like to return again to help rake up the litter of straw and stalks about the barn, or about the stack on the hill where the grass is starting? Would he not like to help pick the stone from the meadow, or mend the brush fence on the mountain where the sheep roam, or hunt up old Brindle's calf in the woods, or gather oven-wood for his mother to start again the big brick oven with its dozen loaves of rye bread, or see the plow crowding the lingering snowbanks on the side-hill, or help his father break and swingle and hatchel the flax in the barnyard?
When I see a farm advertised for rent or for sale in the spring, I want to go at once and look it over. All the particulars interest me so many acres of meadow-land, so many of woodland, so many of pasture the garden, the orchard, the outbuild
ings, the springs, the creek—I see them all, and am already half in possession.
Even Thoreau felt this attraction, and recorded in his Journal: "I know of no more pleasing employment than to ride about the country with a companion very early in the spring, looking at farms with a view to purchasing, if not paying for them."
Blessed is the man who loves the soil!
One mid-April morning two pairs of bluebirds were in very active and at times violent courtship about my grounds. I could not quite understand the meaning of all the fuss and flutter. Both birds of each pair were very demonstrative, but the female in each case the more so. She followed the male everywhere, lifting and twinkling her wings, and apparently seeking to win him by both word and gesture. If she was not telling him by that cheery, animated, confiding, softly-endearing speech of hers, which she poured out incessantly, how much she loved him, what was she saying? She was constantly filled with a desire to perch upon the precise spot where he was sitting, and if he had not moved away, I think she would have alighted upon his back. Now and then, when she flitted away from him, he followed her with like gestures and tones and demonstrations of affection, but never with
quite the same ardor. The two pairs kept near each other about the house, the bird-boxes, the trees, the posts and vines in the vineyard, filling the ear with their soft, insistent warbles, and the eye with their twinkling azure wings.
Was it this constant presence of rivals on both sides that so stimulated them and kept them up to such a pitch of courtship? Finally, after I had watched them over an hour, the birds began to come into collision. As they met in the vineyard, the two males clinched and fell to the ground, lying there for a moment with wings sprawled out, like birds brought down by a gun. Then they separated, and each returned to his mate, warbling and twinkling his wings. Very soon the females clinched and fell to the ground and fought savagely, rolling over and over each other, clawing and tweaking and locking beaks and hanging on like bull terriers. They did this repeatedly; once one of the males dashed in and separated them, by giving one of the females a sharp tweak and blow. Then the males were at it again, their blue plumage mixing with the green grass and ruffled by the ruddy soil. What a soft, feathery, ineffectual battle it seemed in both cases; no sound, no blood, no flying feathers, just a sudden mixing up and general disarray of blue wings and tails and ruddy breasts, there on the ground; assault but no visible wounds; thrust of beak and grip of claw, but no feather
loosened and but little ruffling; long holding of one down by the other, but no cry of pain or fury. It was the kind of battle that one likes to witness. The birds usually locked beaks, and held their grip half a minute at a time. One of the females would always alight by the struggling males and lift her wings and utter her soft notes, but what she said --whether she was encouraging one of the blue coats or berating the other, or imploring them both to desist, or egging them on-I could not tell. So far as I could understand her speech, it was the same as she had been uttering to her mate all the time.
The language of birds is so limited that one cannot always tell their love-calls from their battle-cries. I recognize three notes in the bluebird a simple, plaintive call uttered in the air by the migrating birds, both fall and spring, which is like the word "pure," "pure;" then the animated warbling calls and twitterings, during the mating season, which are uttered in a fond, reassuring tone, usually accompanied by that pretty wing gesture; then the call of alarm when some enemy approaches the nest or a hawk appears.
This last note is soft like the others, but the tone is different; it is sorrowful and apprehensive. Most of our song birds have these three notes expressive of love, alarm, and fellowship. The last-named call seems to keep them in touch with one another. I might perhaps add to this list the scream of distress