[Transcriber's Note: The original scan for text page 142 is missing This is noted where it occurs in the text.]
A FLORIDA SKETCH BOOK
Books by Mr. Torrey.
BIRDS IN THE BUSH. A RAMBLER'S LEASE. THE FOOT-PATH WAY. A FLORIDA SKETCH-BOOK.
IN THE FLAT-WOODS
BESIDE THE MARSH
ON THE BEACH AT DAYTONA
ALONG THE HILLSBOROUGH
A MORNING AT THE OLD SUGAR MILL
ON THE UPPER ST. JOHN'S
ON THE ST. AUGUSTINE ROAD
ORNITHOLOGY ON A COTTON PLANTATION
A FLORIDA SHRINE
WALKS ABOUT TALLAHASSEE
A FLORIDA SKETCH-BOOK.
IN THE FLAT-WOODS.
In approaching Jacksonville by rail, the traveler rides hour after hour through seemingly endless pine barrens, otherwise known as low pine-woods and flat-woods, till he wearies of the sight. It would be hard, he thinks, to imagine a region more unwholesome looking and uninteresting, more poverty-stricken and God-forsaken, in its entire aspect. Surely, men who would risk life in behalf of such a country deserved to win their cause.
Monotonous as the flat-woods were, however, and malarious as they looked,—arid wastes and stretches of stagnant water flying past the car window in perpetual alternation, I was impatient to get into them. They were a world the like of which I had never seen; and wherever I went in eastern Florida, I made it one of my earliest concerns to seek them out.
My first impression was one of disappointment, or perhaps I should rather say, of bewilderment. In fact, I returned from my first visit to the flat-woods under the delusion that I had not been into them at all. This was at St. Augustine, whither I had gone after a night only in Jacksonville. I looked about the quaint little city, of course, and went to the South Beach, on St. Anastasia Island; then I wished to see the pine lands. They were to be found, I was told, on the other side of the San Sebastian. The sun was hot (or so it seemed to a man fresh from the rigors of a New England winter), and the sand was deep; but I sauntered through New Augustine, and pushed on up the road toward Moultrie (I believe it was), till the last houses were passed and I came to the edge of the pine-woods. Here, presently, the roads began to fork in a very confusing manner. The first man I met—a kindly cracker—cautioned me against getting lost; but I had no thought of taking the slightest risk of that kind. I was not going to explore the woods, but only to enter them, sit down, look about me, and listen. The difficulty was to get into them. As I advanced, they receded. It was still only the beginning of a wood; the trees far apart and comparatively small, the ground covered thickly with saw palmetto, interspersed here and there with patches of brown grass or sedge.
In many places the roads were under water, and as I seemed to be making little progress, I pretty soon sat down in a pleasantly shaded spot. Wagons came along at intervals, all going toward the city, most of them with loads of wood; ridiculously small loads, such as a Yankee boy would put upon a wheelbarrow. "A fine day," said I to the driver of such a cart. "Yes, sir," he answered, "it's a pretty day." He spoke with an emphasis which seemed to imply that he accepted my remark as well meant, but hardly adequate to the occasion. Perhaps, if the day had been a few shades brighter, he would have called it "handsome," or even "good looking." Expressions of this kind, however, are matters of local or individual taste, and as such are not to be disputed about. Thus, a man stopped me in Tallahassee to inquire what time it was. I told him, and he said, "Ah, a little sooner than I thought." And why not "sooner" as well as "earlier"? But when, on the same road, two white girls in an ox-cart hailed me with the question, "What time 't is?" I thought the interrogative idiom a little queer; almost as queer, shall we say, as "How do you do?" may have sounded to the first man who heard it,—if the reader is able to imagine such a person.
Meanwhile, let the morning be "fine" or "pretty," it was all one to the birds. The woods were vocal with the cackling of robins, the warble of bluebirds, and the trills of pine warblers. Flickers were shouting—or laughing, if one pleased to hear it so—with true flickerish prolixity, and a single downy woodpecker called sharply again and again. A mocking-bird near me (there is always a mocking-bird near you, in Florida) added his voice for a time, but soon relapsed into silence. The fact was characteristic; for, wherever I went, I found it true that the mocker grew less musical as the place grew wilder. By instinct he is a public performer, he demands an audience; and it is only in cities, like St. Augustine and Tallahassee, that he is heard at his freest and best. A loggerhead shrike—now close at my elbow, now farther away—was practicing his extensive vocabulary with perseverance, if not with enthusiasm. Like his relative the "great northern," though perhaps in a less degree, the loggerhead is commonly at an extreme, either loquacious or dumb; as if he could not let his moderation be known unto any man. Sometimes I fancied him possessed with an insane ambition to match the mocking-bird in song as well as in personal appearance. If so, it is not surprising that he should be subject to fits of discouragement and silence. Aiming at the sun, though a good and virtuous exercise, as we have all heard, is apt to prove dispiriting to sensible marksmen. Crows (fish crows, in all probability, but at the time I did not know it) uttered strange, hoarse, flat-sounding caws. Everv bird of them must have been born without a palate, it seemed to me. White-eyed chewinks were at home in the dense palmetto scrub, whence they announced themselves unmistakably by sharp whistles. Now and then one of them mounted a leaf, and allowed me to see his pale yellow iris. Except for this mark, recognizable almost as far as the bird could be distinguished at all, he looked exactly like our common New England towhee. Somewhere behind me was a kingfisher's rattle, and from a savanna in the same direction came the songs of meadow larks; familiar, but with something unfamiliar about them at the same time, unless my ears deceived me.
More interesting than any of the birds yet named, because more strictly characteristic of the place, as well as more strictly new to me, were the brown-headed nuthatches. I was on the watch for them: they were one of the three novelties which I knew were to be found in the pine lands, and nowhere else,—the other two being the red-cockaded woodpecker and the pine-wood sparrow; and being thus on the lookout, I did not expect to be taken by surprise, if such a paradox (it is nothing worse) maybe allowed to pass. But when I heard them twittering in the distance, as I did almost immediately, I had no suspicion of what they were. The voice had nothing of that nasal quality, that Yankee twang, as some people would call it, which I had always associated with the nuthatch family. On the contrary, it was decidedly finchlike,—so much so that some of the notes, taken by themselves, would have been ascribed without hesitation to the goldfinch or the pine finch, had I heard them in New England; and even as things were, I was more than once deceived for the moment. As for the birds themselves, they were evidently a cheerful and thrifty race, much more numerous than the red-cockaded woodpeckers, and much less easily overlooked than the pine-wood sparrows. I seldom entered the flat-woods anywhere without finding them. They seek their food largely about the leafy ends of the pine branches, resembling the Canadian nuthatches in this respect, so that it is only on rare occasions that one sees them creeping about the trunks or larger limbs. Unlike their two Northern relatives, they are eminently social, often traveling in small flocks, even in the breeding season, and keeping up an almost incessant chorus of shrill twitters as they flit hither and thither through the woods. The first one to come near me was full of inquisitiveness; he flew back and forth past my head, exactly as chickadees do in a similar mood, and once seemed almost ready to alight on my hat. "Let us have a look at this stranger," he appeared to be saying. Possibly his nest was not far off, but I made no search for it. Afterwards I found two nests, one in a low stump, and one in the trunk of a pine, fifteen or twenty feet from the ground. Both of them contained young ones (March 31 and April 2), as I knew by the continual goings-in-and-out of the fathers and mothers. In dress the brown-head is dingy, with little or nothing of the neat and attractive appearance of our New England nuthatches.
In this pine-wood on the road to Moultrie I found no sign of the new woodpecker or the new sparrow. Nor was I greatly disappointed. The place itself was a sufficient novelty,—the place and the summer weather. The pines murmured overhead, and the palmettos rustled all about. Now a butterfly fluttered past me, and now a dragonfly. More than one little flock of tree swallows went over the wood, and once a pair of phoebes amused me by an uncommonly pretty lover's quarrel. Truly it was a pleasant hour. In the midst of it there came along a man in a cart, with a load of wood. We exchanged the time of day, and I remarked upon the smallness of his load. Yes, he said; but it was a pretty heavy load to drag seven or eight miles over such roads. Possibly he understood me as implying that he seemed to be in rather small business, although I had no such purpose, for he went on to say: "In 1861, when this beautiful war broke out between our countries, my father owned niggers. We didn't have to do this. But I don't complain. If I hadn't got a bullet in me, I should do pretty well."
"Then you were in the war?" I said.
"Oh, yes, yes, sir! I was in the Confederate service. Yes, sir, I'm a Southerner to the backbone. My grandfather was a ——" (I missed the patronymic), "and commanded St. Augustine."
The name had a foreign sound, and the man's complexion was swarthy, and in all simplicity I asked if he was a Minorcan. I might as well have touched a lighted match to powder. His eyes flashed, and he came round the tail of the cart, gesticulating with his stick.
"Minorcan!" he broke out. "Spain and the island of Minorca are two places, ain't they?" I admitted meekly that they were.
"You are English, ain't you?" he went on. "You are English,—Yankee born,—ain't you?"
I owned it.
"Well, I'm Spanish. That ain't Minorcan. My grandfather was a ——, and commanded St. Augustine. He couldn't have done that if he had been Minorcan."
By this time he was quieting down a bit. His father remembered the Indian war. The son had heard him tell about it.
"Those were dangerous times," he remarked. "You couldn't have been standing out here in the woods then."
"There is no danger here now, is there?" said I.
"No, no, not now." But as he drove along he turned to say that he wasn't afraid of any thing; he wasn't that kind of a man. Then, with a final turn, he added, what I could not dispute, "A man's life is always in danger."
After he was gone, I regretted that I had offered no apology for my unintentionally offensive question; but I was so taken by surprise, and so much interested in the man as a specimen, that I quite forgot my manners till it was too late. One thing I learned: that it is not prudent, in these days, to judge a Southern man's blood, in either sense of the word, by his dress or occupation. This man had brought seven or eight miles a load of wood that might possibly be worth seventy-five cents (I questioned the owner of what looked like just such a load afterward, and found his asking price half a dollar), and for clothing had on a pair of trousers and a blue cotton shirt, the latter full of holes, through which the skin was visible; yet his father was a —— and had "owned niggers."
A still more picturesque figure in this procession of wood-carters was a boy of perhaps ten or eleven. He rode his horse, and was barefooted and barelegged; but he had a cigarette in his mouth, and to each brown heel was fastened an enormous spur. Who was it that infected the world with the foolish and disastrous notion that work and play are two different things? And was it Emerson, or some other wise man, who said that a boy was the true philosopher?
When it came time to think of returning to St. Augustine, for dinner, I appreciated my cracker's friendly warning against losing my way; for though I had hardly so much as entered the woods, and had taken, as I thought, good heed to my steps, I was almost at once in a quandary as to my road. There was no occasion for worry,—with the sun out, and my general course perfectly plain; but here was a fork in the road, and whether to bear to the left or to the right was a simple matter of guess-work. I made the best guess I could, and guessed wrong, as was apparent after a while, when I found the road under deep water for several rods. I objected to wading, and there was no ready way of going round, since the oak and palmetto scrub crowded close up to the roadside, and just here was all but impenetrable. What was still more conclusive, the road was the wrong one, as the inundation proved, and, for aught I could tell, might carry me far out of my course. I turned back, therefore, under the midday sun, and by good luck a second attempt brought me out of the woods very near where I had entered them.
I visited this particular piece of country but once afterward, having in the mean time discovered a better place of the same sort along the railroad, in the direction of Palatka. There, on a Sunday morning, I heard my first pine-wood sparrow. Time and tune could hardly have been in truer accord. The hour was of the quietest, the strain was of the simplest, and the bird sang as if he were dreaming. For a long time I let him go on without attempting to make certain who he was. He seemed to be rather far off: if I waited his pleasure, he would perhaps move toward me; if I disturbed him, he would probably become silent. So I sat on the end of a sleeper and listened. It was not great music. It made me think of the swamp sparrow; and the swamp sparrow is far from being a great singer. A single prolonged, drawling note (in that respect unlike the swamp sparrow, of course), followed by a succession of softer and sweeter ones,—that was all, when I came to analyze it; but that is no fair description of what I heard. The quality of the song is not there; and it was the quality, the feeling, the soul of it, if I may say what I mean, that made it, in the true sense of a much-abused word, charming.
There could be little doubt that the bird was a pine-wood sparrow; but such things are not to be taken for granted. Once or twice, indeed, the thought of some unfamiliar warbler had crossed my mind. At last, therefore, as the singer still kept out of sight, I leaped the ditch and pushed into the scrub. Happily I had not far to go; he had been much nearer than I thought. A small bird flew up before me, and dropped almost immediately into a clump of palmetto. I edged toward the spot and waited. Then the song began again, this time directly in front of me, but still far-away-sounding and dreamy. I find that last word in my hasty note penciled at the time, and can think of no other that expresses the effect half so well. I looked and looked, and all at once there sat the bird on a palmetto leaf. Once again he sang, putting up his head. Then he dropped out of sight, and I heard nothing more. I had seen only his head and neck,—enough to show him a sparrow, and almost of necessity the pine-wood sparrow. No other strange member of the finch family was to be looked for in such a place.
On further acquaintance, let me say at once, Pucaea aestivalis proved to be a more versatile singer than the performances of my first bird would have led me to suppose. He varies his tune freely, but always within a pretty narrow compass; as is true, also, of the field sparrow, with whom, as I soon came to feel, he has not a little in common. It is in musical form only that he suggests the swamp sparrow. In tone and spirit, in the qualities of sweetness and expressiveness, he is nearly akin to Spizella pusilla. One does for the Southern pine barren what the other does for the Northern berry pasture. And this is high praise; for though in New England we have many singers more brilliant than the field sparrow, we have none that are sweeter, and few that in the long run give more pleasure to sensitive hearers.
I found the pine-wood sparrow afterward in New Smyrna, Port Orange, Sanford, and Tallahassee. So far as I could tell, it was always the same bird; but I shot no specimens, and speak with no authority. Living always in the pine lands, and haunting the dense undergrowth, it is heard a hundred times where it is seen once,—a point greatly in favor of its effectiveness as a musician. Mr. Brewster speaks of it as singing always from an elevated perch, while the birds that I saw in the act of song, a very limited number, were invariably perched low. One that I watched in New Smyrna (one of a small chorus, the others being invisible) sang for a quarter of an hour from a stake or stump which rose perhaps a foot above the dwarf palmetto. It was the same song that I had heard in St. Augustine; only the birds here were in a livelier mood, and sang out instead of sotto voce. The long introductory note sounded sometimes as if it were indrawn, and often, if not always, had a considerable burr in it. Once in a while the strain was caught up at the end and sung over again, after the manner of the field sparrow,—one of that bird's prettiest tricks. At other times the song was delivered with full voice, and then repeated almost under the singer's breath. This was done beautifully in the Port Orange flat-woods, the bird being almost at my feet. I had seen him a moment before, and saw him again half a minute later, but at that instant he was out of sight in the scrub, and seemingly on the ground. This feature of the song, one of its chief merits and its most striking peculiarity, is well described by Mr. Brewster. "Now," he says, "it has a full, bell-like ring that seems to fill the air around; next it is soft and low and inexpressibly tender; now it is clear again, but so modulated that the sound seems to come from a great distance."
[Footnote 1: Two races of the pine-wood sparrow are recognized by ornithologists, Pucaea aestivalis and P. aestivalis bachmanii, and both of them have been found in Florida; but, if I understand the matter right, Pucaea aestivalis is the common and typical Florida bird.]
[Footnote 2: Bulletin on the Nuttall Ornithological Club, vol. vii. p. 98.]
Not many other birds, I think (I cannot recall any), habitually vary their song in this manner. Other birds sing almost inaudibly at times, especially in the autumnal season. Even the brown thrasher, whose ordinary performance, is so full-voiced, not to say boisterous, will sometimes soliloquize, or seem to soliloquize, in the faintest of undertones. The formless autumnal warble of the song sparrow is familiar to every one. And in this connection I remember, and am not likely ever to forget, a winter wren who favored me with what I thought the most bewitching bit of vocalism to which I had ever listened. He was in the bushes close at my side, in the Franconia Notch, and delivered his whole song, with all its customary length, intricacy, and speed, in a tone—a whisper, I may almost say—that ran along the very edge of silence. The unexpected proximity of a stranger may have had something to do with his conduct, as it often appears to have with the thrasher's; but, however that may be, the cases are not parallel with that of the pine-wood sparrow, inasmuch as the latter bird not merely sings under his breath on special occasions, whether on account of the nearness of a listener or for any other reason, but in his ordinary singing uses louder and softer tones interchangeably, almost exactly as human singers and players do; as if, in the practice of his art, he had learned to appreciate, consciously or unconsciously (and practice naturally goes before theory), the expressive value of what I believe is called musical dynamics.
I spent many half-days in the pine lands (how gladly now would I spend another!), but never got far into them. ("Into their depths," my pen was on the point of making me say; but that would have been a false note. The flat-woods have no "depths.") Whether I followed the railway,—in many respects a pretty satisfactory method,—or some roundabout, aimless carriage road, a mile or two was generally enough. The country offers no temptation to pedestrian feats, nor does the imagination find its account in going farther and farther. For the reader is not to think of the flat-woods as in the least resembling a Northern forest, which at every turn opens before the visitor and beckons him forward. Beyond and behind, and on either side, the pine-woods are ever the same. It is this monotony, by the bye, this utter absence of landmarks, that makes it so unsafe for the stranger to wander far from the beaten track. The sand is deep, the sun is hot; one place is as good as another. What use, then, to tire yourself? And so, unless the traveler is going somewhere, as I seldom was, he is continually stopping by the way. Now a shady spot entices him to put down his umbrella,—for there is a shady spot, here and there, even in a Florida pine-wood; or blossoms are to be plucked; or a butterfly, some gorgeous and nameless creature, brightens the wood as it passes; or a bird is singing; or an eagle is soaring far overhead, and must be watched out of sight; or a buzzard, with upturned wings, floats suspiciously near the wanderer, as if with sinister intent (buzzard shadows are a regular feature of the flat-wood landscape, just as cloud shadows are in a mountainous country); or a snake lies stretched out in the sun,—a "whip snake," perhaps, that frightens the unwary stroller by the amazing swiftness with which it runs away from him; or some strange invisible insect is making uncanny noises in the underbrush. One of my recollections of the railway woods at St. Augustine is of a cricket, or locust, or something else,—I never saw it,—that amused me often with a formless rattling or drumming sound. I could think of nothing but a boy's first lesson upon the bones, the rhythm of the beats was so comically mistimed and bungled.
One fine morning,—it was the 18th of February,—I had gone down the railroad a little farther than usual, attracted by the encouraging appearance of a swampy patch of rather large deciduous trees. Some of them, I remember, were red maples, already full of handsome, high-colored fruit. As I drew near, I heard indistinctly from among them what might have been the song of a black-throated green warbler, a bird that would have made a valued addition to my Florida list, especially at that early date. No sooner was the song repeated, however, than I saw that I had been deceived; it was something I had never heard before. But it certainly had much of the black-throated green's quality, and without question was the note of a warbler of some kind. What a shame if the bird should give me the slip! Meanwhile, it kept on singing at brief intervals, and was not so far away but that, with my glass, I should be well able to make it out, if only I could once get my eyes on it. That was the difficulty. Something stirred among the branches. Yes, a yellow-throated warbler (Dendroica dominica), a bird of which I had seen my first specimens, all of them silent, during the last eight days. Probably he was the singer. I hoped so, at any rate. That would be an ideal case of a beautiful bird with a song to match. I kept him under my glass, and presently the strain was repeated, but not by him. Then it ceased, and I was none the wiser. Perhaps I never should be. It was indeed a shame. Such a taking song; so simple, and yet so pretty, and so thoroughly distinctive. I wrote it down thus: tee-koi, tee-koo,—two couplets, the first syllable of each a little emphasized and dwelt upon, not drawled, and a little higher in pitch than its fellow. Perhaps it might be expressed thus:—
I cannot profess to be sure of that, however, nor have I unqualified confidence in the adequacy of musical notation, no matter how skillfully employed, to convey a truthful idea of any bird song.
[Footnote 1: As it was, I did not find Dendroica virens in Florida. On my way home, in Atlanta, April 20, I saw one bird in a dooryard shade-tree.]
The affair remained a mystery till, in Daytona, nine days afterward, the same notes were heard again, this time in lower trees that did not stand in deep water. Then it transpired that my mysterious warbler was not a warbler at all, but the Carolina chickadee. That was an outcome quite unexpected, although I now remembered that chickadees were in or near the St. Augustine swamp; and what was more to the purpose, I could now discern some relationship between the tee-koi, tee-koo (or, as I now wrote it, see-toi, see-too), and the familiar so-called phoebe whistle of the black-capped titmouse. The Southern bird, I am bound to acknowledge, is much the more accomplished singer of the two. Sometimes he repeats the second dissyllable, making six notes in all. At other times he breaks out with a characteristic volley of fine chickadee notes, and runs without a break into the see-toi, see-too, with a highly pleasing effect. Then if, on the top of this, he doubles the see-too, we have a really prolonged and elaborate musical effort, quite putting into the shade our New England bird's hear, hear me, sweet and welcome as that always is.
The Southern chickadee, it should be said, is not to be distinguished from its Northern relative—in the bush, I mean—except by its notes. It is slightly smaller, like Southern birds in general, but is practically identical in plumage. Apart from its song, what most impressed me was its scarcity. It was found, sooner or later, wherever I went, I believe, but always in surprisingly small numbers, and I saw only one nest. That was built in a roadside china-tree in Tallahassee, and contained young ones (April 17), as was clear from the conduct of its owners.
It must not be supposed that I left St. Augustine without another search for my unknown "warbler." The very next morning found me again at the swamp, where for at least an hour I sat and listened. I heard no tee-koi, tee-koo, but was rewarded twice over for my walk. In the first place, before reaching the swamp, I found the third of my flat-wood novelties, the red-cockaded woodpecker. As had happened with the nuthatch and the sparrow, I heard him before seeing him: first some notes, which by themselves would hardly have suggested a woodpecker origin, and then a noise of hammering. Taken together, the two sounds, left little doubt as to their author; and presently I saw him,—or rather them, for there were two birds. I learned nothing about them, either then or afterwards (I saw perhaps eight individuals during my ten weeks' visit), but it was worth something barely to see and hear them. Henceforth Dryobates borealis is a bird, and not merely a name. This, as I have said, was among the pines, before reaching the swamp. In the swamp itself, there suddenly appeared from somewhere, as if by magic (a dramatic entrance is not without its value, even out-of-doors), a less novel but far more impressive figure, a pileated woodpecker; a truly splendid fellow, with the scarlet cheek-patches. When I caught sight of him, he stood on one of the upper branches of a tall pine, looking wonderfully alert and wide-awake; now stretching out his scrawny neck, and now drawing it in again, his long crest all the while erect and flaming. After a little he dropped into the underbrush, out of which came at intervals a succession of raps. I would have given something to have had him under my glass just then, for I had long felt curious to see him in the act of chiseling out those big, oblong, clean-cut, sharp-angled "peck-holes" which, close to the base of the tree, make so common and notable a feature of Vermont and New Hampshire forests; but, though I did my best, I could not find him, till all at once he came up again and took to a tall pine,—the tallest in the wood,—where he pranced about for a while, striking sundry picturesque but seemingly aimless attitudes, and then made off for good. All in all, he was a wild-looking bird, if ever I saw one.
I was no sooner in St. Augustine, of course, than my eyes were open for wild flowers. Perhaps I felt a little disappointed. Certainly the land was not ablaze with color. In the grass about the old fort fhere was plenty of the yellow oxalis and the creeping white houstonia; and from a crevice in the wall, out of reach, leaned a stalk of goldenrod in full bloom. The reader may smile, if he will, but this last flower was a surprise and a stumbling-block. A vernal goldenrod! Dr. Chapman's Flora made no mention of such an anomaly. Sow thistles, too, looked strangely anachronistic. I had never thought of them as harbingers of springtime. The truth did not break upon me till a week or so afterward. Then, on the way to the beach at Daytona, where the pleasant peninsula road traverses a thick forest of short-leaved pines, every tree of which leans heavily inland at the same angle ("the leaning pines of Daytona," I always said to myself, as I passed), I came upon some white beggar's-ticks,—like daisies; and as I stopped to see what they were, I noticed the presence of ripe seeds. The plant had been in flower a long time. And then I laughed at my own dullness. It fairly deserved a medal. As if, even in Massachusetts, autumnal flowers—the groundsel, at least—did not sometimes persist in blossoming far into the winter! A day or two after this, I saw a mullein stalk still presenting arms, as it were (the mullein, always looks the soldier to me), with one bright flower. If I had found that in St. Augustine, I flatter myself I should have been less easily fooled.
There were no such last-year relics in the flat-woods, so far as I remember, but spring blossoms were beginning to make their appearance there by the middle of February, particularly along the railroad,—violets in abundance (Viola cucullata), dwarf orange-colored dandelions (Krigia), the Judas-tree, or redbud, St. Peter's-wort, blackberry, the yellow star-flower (Hypoxis juncea), and butterworts. I recall, too, in a swampy spot, a fine fresh tuft of the golden club, with its gorgeous yellow spadix,—a plant that I had never seen in bloom before, although I had once admired a Cape Cod "hollow" full of the rank tropical leaves. St. Peter's-wort, a low shrub, thrives everywhere in the pine barrens, and, without being especially attractive, its rather sparse yellow flowers—not unlike the St. John's-wort—do something to enliven the general waste. The butterworts are beauties, and true children of the spring. I picked my first ones, which by chance were of the smaller purple species (Pinguicula pumila), on my way down from the woods, on a moist bank. At that moment a white man came up the road. "What do you call this flower?" said I. "Valentine's flower," he answered at once. "Ah," said I, "because it is in bloom on St. Valentine's Day, I suppose?" "No, sir," he said. "Do you speak Spanish?" I had to shake my head. "Because I could explain it better in Spanish," he continued, as if by way of apology; but he went on in perfectly good English: "If you put one of them under your pillow, and think of some one you would like very much to see,—some one who has been dead a long time,—you will be likely to dream of him. It is a very pretty flower," he added. And so it is; hardly prettier, however, to my thinking, than the blossoms of the early creeping blackberry (Rubus trivialis). With them I fairly fell in love: true white roses, I called them, each with its central ring of dark purplish stamens; as beautiful as the cloudberry, which once, ten years before, I had found, on the summit of Mount Clinton, in New Hampshire, and refused to believe a Rubus, though Dr. Gray's key led me to that genus again and again. There is something in a name, say what you will.
Some weeks later, and a little farther south,—in the flat-woods behind New Smyrna,—I saw other flowers, but never anything of that tropical exuberance at which the average Northern tourist expects to find himself staring. Boggy places were full of blue iris (the common Iris versicolor of New England, but of ranker growth), and here and there a pool was yellow with bladderwort. I was taken also with the larger and taller (yellow) butterwort, which I used never to see as I went through the woods in the morning, but was sure to find standing in the tall dry grass along the border of the sandy road, here one and there one, on my return at noon. In similar places grew a "yellow daisy" (Leptopoda), a single big head, of a deep color, at the top of a leafless stem. It seemed to be one of the most abundant of Florida spring flowers, but I could not learn that it went by any distinctive vernacular name. Beside the railway track were blue-eyed grass and pipewort, and a dainty blue lobelia (L. Feayana), with once in a while an extremely pretty coreopsis, having a purple centre, and scarcely to be distinguished from one that is common in gardens. No doubt the advancing season brings an increasing wealth of such beauty to the flat-woods. No doubt, too, I missed the larger half of what might have been found even at the time of my visit; for I made no pretense of doing any real botanical work, having neither the time nor the equipment. The birds kept me busy, for the most part, when the country itself did not absorb my attention.
More interesting, and a thousand times more memorable, than any flower or bird was the pine barren itself. I have given no true idea of it, I am perfectly aware: open, parklike, flooded with sunshine, level as a floor. "What heartache," Lanier breaks out, poor exile, dying of consumption,—"what heartache! Ne'er a hill!" A dreary country to ride through, hour after hour; an impossible country to live in, but most pleasant for a half-day winter stroll. Notwithstanding I never went far into it, as I have already said, I had always a profound sensation of remoteness; as if I might go on forever, and be no farther away.
Yet even here I had more than one reminder that the world is a small place. I met a burly negro in a cart, and fell into talk with him about the Florida climate, an endless topic, out of which a cynical traveler may easily extract almost endless amusement. How abput the summers here? I inquired. Were they really as paradisaical (I did not use that word) as some reports would lead one to suppose? The man smiled, as if he had heard something like that before. He did not think the Florida summer a dream of delight, even on the east coast. "I'm tellin' you the truth, sah; the mosquiters an' sandflies is awful." Was he born here? I asked. No; he came from B——, Alabama. Everybody in eastern Florida came from somewhere, as well as I could make out.
"Oh, from B——," said I. "Did you know Mr. W——, of the —— Iron Works?"
He smiled again. "Yes, sah; I used to work for him. He's a nice man." He spoke the truth that time beyond a peradventure. He was healthier here than in the other place, he thought, and wages were higher; but he liked the other place better "for pleasure." It was an odd coincidence, was it not, that I should meet in this solitude a man who knew the only citizen of Alabama with whom I was ever acquainted.
At another time I fell in with an oldish colored man, who, like myself, had taken to the woods for a quiet Sunday stroll. He was from Mississippi, he told me. Oh, yes, he remembered the war; he was a slave, twenty-one years old, when it broke out. To his mind, the present generation of "niggers" were a pretty poor lot, for all their "edication." He had seen them crowding folks off the sidewalk, and puffing smoke in their faces. All of which was nothing new; I had found that story more or less common among negroes of his age. He didn't believe much in "edication;" but when I asked if he thought the blacks were better off in slavery times, he answered quickly, "I'd rather be a free man, I had." He wasn't married; he had plenty to do to take care of himself. We separated, he going one way and I the other; but he turned to ask, with much seriousness (the reader must remember that this was only three months after a national election), "Do you think they'll get free trade?" "Truly," said I to myself, "'the world is too much with us.' Even in the flat-woods there is no escaping the tariff question." But I answered, in what was meant to be a reassuring tone, "Not yet awhile. Some time." "I hope not," he said,—as if liberty to buy and sell would be a dreadful blow to a man living in a shanty in a Florida pine barren! He was taking the matter rather too much to heart, perhaps; but surely it was encouraging to see such a man interested in broad economical questions, and I realized as never before the truth of what the newspapers so continually tell us, that political campaigns are educational.
BESIDE THE MARSH.
I am sitting upon the upland bank of a narrow winding creek. Before me is a sea of grass, brown and green of many shades. To the north the marsh is bounded by live-oak woods,—a line with numberless indentations,—beyond which runs the Matanzas River, as I know by the passing and repassing of sails behind the trees. Eastward are sand-hills, dazzling white in the sun, with a ragged green fringe along their tops. Then comes a stretch of the open sea, and then, more to the south, St. Anastasia Island, with its tall black-and-white lighthouse and the cluster of lower buildings at its base. Small sailboats, and now and then a tiny steamer, pass up and down the river to and from St. Augustine.
A delicious south wind is blowing (it is the 15th of February), and I sit in the shade of a cedar-tree and enjoy the air and the scene. A contrast, this, to the frozen world I was living in, less than a week ago.
As I approached the creek, a single spotted sandpiper was teetering along the edge of the water, and the next moment a big blue heron rose just beyond him and went flapping away to the middle of the marsh. Now, an hour afterward, he is still standing there, towering above the tall grass. Once when I turned that way I saw, as I thought, a stake, and then something moved upon it,—a bird of some kind. And what an enormous beak! I raised my field-glass. It was the heron. His body was the post, and his head was the bird. Meanwhile, the sandpiper has stolen away, I know not when or where. He must have omitted the tweet, tweet, with which ordinarily he signalizes his flight. He is the first of his kind that I have seen during my brief stay in these parts.
Now a multitude of crows pass over; fish crows, I think they must be, from their small size and their strange, ridiculous voices. And now a second great blue heron comes in sight, and keeps on over the marsh and over the live-oak wood, on his way to the San Sebastian marshes, or some point still more remote. A fine show he makes, with his wide expanse of wing, and his feet drawn up and standing out behind him. Next a marsh hawk in brown plumage comes skimming over the grass. This way and that he swerves in ever graceful lines. For one to whom ease and grace come by nature, even the chase of meadow mice is an act of beauty, while another goes awkwardly though in pursuit of a goddess.
Several times I have noticed a kingfisher hovering above the grass (so it looks, but no doubt he is over an arm of the creek), striking the air with quick strokes, and keeping his head pointed downward, after the manner of a tern. Then he disappeared while I was looking at something else. Now I remark him sitting motionless upon the top of a post in the midst of the marsh.
A third blue heron appears, and he too flies over without stopping. Number One still keeps his place; through the glass I can see him dressing his feathers with his clumsy beak. The lively strain of a white-eyed vireo, pertest of songsters, comes to me from somewhere on my right, and the soft chipping of myrtle warblers is all but incessant. I look up from my paper to see a turkey buzzard sailing majestically northward. I watch him till he fades in the distance. Not once does he flap his wings, but sails and sails, going with the wind, yet turning again and again to rise against it,—helping himself thus to its adverse, uplifting pressure in the place of wing-strokes, perhaps,—and passing onward all the while in beautiful circles. He, too, scavenger though he is, has a genius for being graceful. One might almost be willing to be a buzzard, to fly like that!
The kingfisher and the heron are still at their posts. An exquisite yellow butterfly, of a sort strange to my Yankee eyes, flits past, followed by a red admiral. The marsh hawk is on the wing again, and while looking at him I descry a second hawk, too far away to be made out. Now the air behind me is dark with crows,—a hundred or two, at least, circling over the low cedars. Some motive they have for all their clamor, but it passes my owlish wisdom to guess what it can be. A fourth blue heron appears, and drops into the grass out of sight.
Between my feet is a single blossom of the yellow oxalis, the only flower to be seen; and very pretty it is, each petal with an orange spot at the base.
Another buzzard, another marsh hawk, another yellow butterfly, and then a smaller one, darker, almost orange. It passes too quickly over the creek and away. The marsh hawk comes nearer, and I see the strong yellow tinge of his plumage, especially underneath. He will grow handsomer as he grows older. A pity the same could not be true of men. Behind me are sharp cries of titlarks. From the direction of the river come frequent reports of guns. Somebody is doing his best to be happy! All at once I prick up my ears. From the grass just across the creek rises the brief, hurried song of a long-billed marsh wren. So he is in Florida, is he? Already I have heard confused noises which I feel sure are the work of rails of some kind. No doubt there is abundant life concealed in those acres on acres of close grass.
The heron and the kingfisher are still quiet. Their morning hunt was successful, and for to-day Fate cannot harm them. A buzzard, with nervous, rustling beats, goes directly above the low cedar under which I am resting.
At last, after a siesta of two hours, the heron has changed his place. I looked up just in season to see him sweeping over the grass, into which he dropped the next instant. The tide is falling. The distant sand-hills are winking in the heat, but the breeze is deliciously cool, the very perfection of temperature, if a man is to sit still in the shade. It is eleven o'clock. I have a mile to go in the hot sun, and turn away. But first I sweep the line once more with my glass. Yonder to the south are two more blue herons standing in the grass. Perhaps there are more still. I sweep the line. Yes, far, far away I can see four heads in a row. Heads and necks rise above the grass. But so far away! Are they birds, or only posts made alive by my imagination? I look again. I believe I was deceived. They are nothing but stakes. See how in a row they stand. I smile at myself. Just then one of them moves, and another is pulled down suddenly into the grass. I smile again. "Ten great blue herons," I say to myself.
All this has detained me, and meantime the kingfisher has taken wing and gone noisily up the creek. The marsh hawk appears once more. A killdeer's sharp, rasping note—a familiar sound in St. Augustine—comes from I know not where. A procession of more than twenty black vultures passes over my head. I can see their feet drawn up under them. My own I must use in plodding homeward.
ON THE BEACH AT DAYTONA.
The first eight days of my stay in Daytona were so delightful that I felt as if I had never before seen fine weather, even in my dreams. My east window looked across the Halifax River to the peninsula woods. Beyond them was the ocean. Immediately after breakfast, therefore, I made toward the north bridge, and in half an hour or less was on the beach. Beaches are much the same the world over, and there is no need to describe this one—Silver Beach, I think I heard it called—except to say that it is broad, hard, and, for a pleasure-seeker's purpose, endless. It is backed by low sand-hills covered with impenetrable scrub,—oak and palmetto,—beyond which is a dense growth of short-leaved pines. Perfect weather, a perfect beach, and no throng of people: here were the conditions of happiness; and here for eight days I found it. The ocean itself was a solitude. Day after day not a sail was in sight. Looking up and down the beach, I could usually see somewhere in the distance a carriage or two, and as many foot passengers; but I often walked a mile, or sat for half an hour, without being within hail of any one. Never were airs more gentle or colors more exquisite.
As for birds, they were surprisingly scarce, but never wanting altogether. If everything else failed, a few fish-hawks were sure to be in sight. I watched them at first with eager interest. Up and down the beach they went, each by himself, with heads pointed downward, scanning the shallow water. Often they stopped in their course, and by means of laborious flappings held themselves poised over a certain spot. Then, perhaps, they set their wings and shot downward clean under water. If the plunge was unsuccessful, they shook their feathers dry and were ready to begin again. They had the fisherman's gift. The second, and even the third attempt might fail, but no matter; it was simply a question of time and patience. If the fish was caught, their first concern seemed to be to shift their hold upon it, till its head pointed to the front. That done, they shook themselves vigorously and started landward, the shining white victim wriggling vainly in the clutch of the talons. I took it for granted that they retired with their quarry to some secluded spot on the peninsula, till one day I happened to be standing upon a sand-hill as one passed overhead. Then I perceived that he kept on straight across the peninsula and the river. More than once, however, I saw one of them in no haste to go inland. On my second visit, a hawk came circling about my head, carrying a fish. I was surprised at the action, but gave it no second thought, nor once imagined that he was making me his protector, till suddenly a large bird dropped rather awkwardly upon the sand, not far before me. He stood for an instant on his long, ungainly legs, and then, showing a white head and a white tail, rose with a fish in his talons, and swept away landward out of sight. Here was the osprey's parasite, the bald eagle, for which I had been on the watch. Meantime, the hawk too had disappeared. Whether it was his fish which the eagle had picked up (having missed it in the air) I cannot say. I did not see it fall, and knew nothing of the eagle's presence until he fluttered to the beach.
Some days later, I saw the big thief—emblem of American liberty—play his sharp game to the finish. I was crossing the bridge, and by accident turned and looked upward. (By accident, I say, but I was always doing it.) High in the air were two birds, one chasing the other,—a fish-hawk and a young eagle with dark head and tail. The hawk meant to save his dinner if he could. Round and round he went, ascending at every turn, his pursuer after him hotly. For aught I could see, he stood a good chance of escape, till all at once another pair of wings swept into the field of my glass.
"A third is in the race! Who is the third, Speeding away swift as the eagle bird?"
It was an eagle, an adult, with head and tail white. Only once more the osprey circled. The odds were against him, and he let go the fish. As it fell, the old eagle swooped after it, missed it, swooped again, and this time, long before it could reach the water, had it fast in his claws. Then off he went, the younger one in pursuit. They passed out of sight behind the trees of an island, one close upon the other, and I do not know how the controversy ended; but I would have wagered a trifle on the old white-head, the bird of Washington.
The scene reminded me of one I had witnessed in Georgia a fortnight before, on my way south. The train stopped at a backwoods station; some of the passengers gathered upon the steps of the car, and the usual bevy of young negroes came alongside. "Stand on my head for a nickel?" said one. A passenger put his hand into his pocket; the boy did as he had promised,—in no very professional style, be it said,—and with a grin stretched out his hand. The nickel glistened in the sun, and on the instant a second boy sprang forward, snatched it out of the sand, and made off in triumph amid the hilarious applause of his fellows. The acrobat's countenance indicated a sense of injustice, and I had no doubt that my younger eagle was similarly affected. "Where is our boasted honor among thieves?" I imagined him asking. The bird of freedom is a great bird, and the land of the free is a great country. Here, let us hope, the parallel ends. Whether on the banks of Newfoundland or elsewhere, it cannot be that the great republic would ever snatch a fish that did not belong to it.
I admired the address of the fish-hawks until I saw the gannets. Then I perceived that the hawks, with all their practice, were no better than landlubbers. The gannets kept farther out at sea. Sometimes a scattered flock remained in sight for the greater part of a forenoon. With their long, sharp wings and their outstretched necks,—like loons, but with a different flight,—they were rakish-looking customers. Sometimes from a great height, sometimes from a lower, sometimes at an incline, and sometimes vertically, they plunged into the water, and after an absence of some seconds, as it seemed, came up and rested upon the surface. They were too far away to be closely observed, and for a time I did not feel certain what they were. The larger number were in dark plumage, and it was not till a white one appeared that I said with assurance, "Gannets!" With the bright sun on him, he was indeed a splendid bird, snowy white, with the tips of his wings jet black. If he would have come inshore like the ospreys, I think I should never have tired of his evolutions.
The gannets showed themselves only now and then, but the brown pelicans were an every-day sight. I had found them first on the beach at St. Augustine. Here at Daytona they never alighted on the sand, and seldom in the water. They were always flying up or down the beach, and, unless turned from their course by the presence of some suspicious object, they kept straight on just above the breakers, rising and falling with the waves; now appearing above them, and now out of sight in the trough of the sea. Sometimes a single bird passed, but commonly they were in small flocks. Once I saw seventeen together,—a pretty long procession; for, whatever their number, they went always in Indian file. Evidently some dreadful thing would happen if two pelicans should ever travel abreast. It was partly this unusual order of march, I suspect, which gave such an air of preternatural gravity to their movements. It was impossible to see even two of them go by without feeling almost as if I were in church. First, both birds flew a rod or two with slow and stately flappings; then, as if at some preconcerted signal, both set their wings and scaled for about the same distance; then they resumed their wing strokes; and so on, till they passed out of sight. I never heard them utter a sound, or saw them make a movement of any sort (I speak of what I saw at Daytona) except to fly straight on, one behind another. If church ceremonials are still open to amendment, I would suggest, in no spirit of irreverence, that a study of pelican processionals would be certain to yield edifying results. Nothing done in any cathedral could be more solemn. Indeed, their solemnity was so great that I came at last to find it almost ridiculous; but that, of course, was only from a want of faith on the part of the beholder. The birds, as I say, were brown pelicans. Had they been of the other species, in churchly white and black, the ecclesiastical effect would perhaps have been heightened, though such a thing is hardly conceivable.
Some beautiful little gulls, peculiarly dainty in their appearance ("Bonaparte's gulls," they are called in books, but "surf gulls" would be a prettier and apter name), were also given to flying along the breakers, but in a manner very different from the pelicans'; as different, I may say, as the birds themselves. They, too, moved steadily onward, north or south as the case might be, but fed as they went, dropping into the shallow water between the incoming waves, and rising again to escape the next breaker. The action was characteristic and graceful, though often somewhat nervous and hurried. I noticed that the birds commonly went by twos, but that may have been nothing more than a coincidence. Beside these small surf gulls, never at all numerous, I usually saw a few terns, and now and then one or two rather large gulls, which, as well as I could make out, must have been the ring-billed. It was a strange beach, I thought, where fish-hawks invariably outnumbered both gulls and terns.
Of beach birds, properly so called, I saw none but sanderlings. They were no novelty, but I always stopped to look at them; busy as ants, running in a body down the beach after a receding wave, and the next moment scampering back again with all speed before an incoming one. They tolerated no near approach, but were at once on the wing for a long flight up or down the coast, looking like a flock of snow-white birds as they turned their under parts to the sun in rising above the breakers. Their manner of feeding, with the head pitched forward, and a quick, eager movement, as if they had eaten nothing for days, and were fearful that their present bit of good fortune would not last, is strongly characteristic, so that they can be recognized a long way off. As I have said, they were the only true beach birds; but I rarely failed to see one or two great blue herons playing that role. The first one filled me with surprise. I had never thought of finding him in such a place; but there he stood, and before I was done with Florida beaches I had come to look upon him as one of their most constant habitues. In truth, this largest of the herons is well-nigh omnipresent in Florida. Wherever there is water, fresh or salt, he is certain to be met with sooner or later; and even in the driest place, if you stay there long enough, you will be likely to see him passing overhead, on his way to the water, which is nowhere far off. On the beach, as everywhere else, he is a model of patience. To the best of my recollection, I never saw him catch a fish there; and I really came to think it pathetic, the persistency with which he would stand, with the water half way to his knees, leaning forward expectantly toward the breakers, as if he felt that this great and generous ocean, which had so many fish to spare, could not fail to send him, at last, the morsel for which he was waiting.
But indeed I was not long in perceiving that the Southern climate made patience a comparatively easy virtue, and fishing, by a natural consequence, a favorite avocation. Day after day, as I crossed the bridges on my way to and from the beach, the same men stood against the rail, holding their poles over the river. They had an air of having been there all winter. I came to recognize them, though I knew none of their names. One was peculiarly happy looking, almost radiant, with an educated face, and only one hand. His disability hindered him, no doubt. I never saw so much as a sheep-head or a drum lying at his feet. But inwardly, I felt sure, his luck was good. Another was older, fifty at least, sleek and well dressed. He spoke pleasantly enough, if I addressed him; otherwise he attended strictly to business. Every day he was there, morning and afternoon. He, I think, had better fortune than any of the others. Once I saw him land a large and handsome "speckled trout," to the unmistakable envy of his brother anglers. Still a third was a younger man, with a broad-brimmed straw hat and a taciturn habit; no less persevering than Number Two, perhaps, but far less successful. I marveled a little at their enthusiasm (there were many beside these), and they, in their turn, did not altogether conceal their amusement at the foibles of a man, still out of Bedlam, who walked and walked and walked, always with a field-glass protruding from his side pocket, which now and then he pulled out suddenly and leveled at nothing. It is one of the merciful ameliorations of this present evil world that men are thus mutually entertaining.
These anglers were to be congratulated. Ordered South by their physicians,—as most of them undoubtedly were,—compelled to spend the winter away from friends and business, amid all the discomforts of Southern hotels, they were happy in having at least one thing which they loved to do. Blessed is the invalid who has an outdoor hobby. One man, whom I met more than once in my beach rambles, seemed to devote himself to bathing, running, and walking. He looked like an athlete; I heard him tell how far he could run without getting "winded;" and as he sprinted up and down the sand in his scanty bathing costume, I always found him a pleasing spectacle. Another runner there gave me a half-hour of amusement that turned at the last to a feeling of almost painful sympathy. He was not in bathing costume, nor did he look particularly athletic. He was teaching his young lady to ride a bicycle, and his pupil was at that most interesting stage of a learner's career when the machine is beginning to steady itself. With a very little assistance she went bravely, while at the same time the young man felt it necessary not to let go his hold upon her for more than a few moments at once. At all events, he must be with her at the turn. She plied the pedals with vigor, and he ran alongside or behind, as best he could; she excited, and he out of breath. Back and forth they went, and it was a relief to me when finally he took off his coat. I left him still panting in his fair one's wake, and hoped it would not turn out a case of "love's labor's lost." Let us hope, too, that he was not an invalid.
While speaking of these my companions in idleness, I may as well mention an older man,—a rural philosopher, he seemed,—whom I met again and again, always in search of shells. He was from Indiana, he told me with agreeable garrulity. His grandchildren would like the shells. He had perhaps made a mistake in coming so far south. It was pretty warm, he thought, and he feared the change would be too great when he went home again. If a man's lungs were bad, he ought to go to a warm place, of course. He came for his stomach, which was now pretty well,—a capital proof of the superior value of fresh air over "proper" food in dyspeptic troubles; for if there is anywhere in the world a place in which a delicate stomach would fare worse than in a Southern hotel,—of the second or third class,—may none but my enemies ever find it. Seashell collecting is not a panacea. For a disease like old age, for instance, it might prove to be an alleviation rather than a cure; but taken long enough, and with a sufficient mixture of enthusiasm,—a true sine qua non,—it will be found efficacious, I believe, in all ordinary cases of dyspepsia.
My Indiana man was far from being alone in his cheerful pursuit. If strangers, men or women, met me on the beach and wished to say something more than good-morning, they were sure to ask, "Have you found any pretty shells?" One woman was a collector of a more businesslike turn. She had brought a camp-stool, and when I first saw her in the distance was removing her shoes, and putting on rubber boots. Then she moved her stool into the surf, sat upon it with a tin pail beside her, and, leaning forward over the water, fell to doing something,—I could not tell what. She was so industrious that I did not venture to disturb her, as I passed; but an hour or two afterward I overtook her going homeward across the peninsula with her invalid husband, and she showed me her pail full of the tiny coquina clams, which she said were very nice for soup, as indeed I knew. Some days later, I found a man collecting them for the market, with the help of a horse and a cylindrical wire roller. With his trousers rolled to his knees, he waded in the surf, and shoveled the incoming water and sand into the wire roller through an aperture left for that purpose. Then he closed the aperture, and drove the horse back and forth through the breakers till the clams were washed clear of the sand, after which he poured them out into a shallow tray like a long bread-pan, and transferred them from that to a big bag. I came up just in time to see them in the tray, bright with all the colors of the rainbow. "Will you hold the bag open?" he said. I was glad to help (it was perhaps the only useful ten minutes that I passed in Florida); and so, counting quart by quart, he dished them into it. There were thirty odd quarts, but he wanted a bushel and a quarter, and again took up the shovel. The clams themselves were not, canned and shipped, he said, but only the "juice."
Many rudely built cottages stood on the sand-hills just behind the beach, especially at the points, a mile or so apart, where the two Daytona bridge roads come out of the scrub; and one day, while walking up the beach to Ormond, I saw before me a much more elaborate Queen Anne house. Fancifully but rather neatly painted, and with a stable to match, it looked like an exotic. As I drew near, its venerable owner was at work in front of it, shoveling a path through the sand,—just as, at that moment (February 24), thousands of Yankee householders were shoveling paths through the snow, which then was reported by the newspapers to be seventeen inches deep in the streets of Boston. His reverend air and his long black coat proclaimed him a clergyman past all possibility of doubt. He seemed to have got to heaven before death, the place was so attractive; but being still in a body terrestrial, he may have found the meat market rather distant, and mosquitoes and sand-flies sometimes a plague. As I walked up the beach, he drove by me in an open wagon with a hired man. They kept on till they came to a log which had been cast up by the sea, and evidently had been sighted from the house. The hired man lifted it into the wagon, and they drove back,—quite a stirring adventure, I imagined; an event to date from, at the very least.
The smaller cottages were nearly all empty at that season. At different times I made use of many of them, when the sun was hot, or I had been long afoot. Once I was resting thus on a flight of front steps, when a three-seated carriage came down the beach and pulled up opposite. The driver wished to ask me a question, I thought; no doubt I looked very much at home. From the day I had entered Florida, every one I met had seemed to know me intuitively for a New Englander, and most of them—I could not imagine how—had divined that I came from Boston. It gratified me to believe that I was losing a little of my provincial manner, under the influence of more extended travel. But my pride had a sudden fall. The carriage stopped, as I said; but instead of inquiring the way, the driver alighted, and all the occupants of the carriage proceeded to do the same,—eight women, with baskets and sundries. It was time for me to be starting. I descended the steps, and pulled off my hat to the first comer, who turned out to be the proprietor of the establishment. With a gracious smile, she hoped they were "not frightening me away." She and her friends had come for a day's picnic at the cottage. Things being as they were (eight women), she could hardly invite me to share the festivities, and, with my best apology for the intrusion, I withdrew.
Of one building on the sand-hills I have peculiarly pleasant recollections. It was not a cottage, but had evidently been put up as a public resort; especially, as I inferred, for Sunday-school or parish picnics. It was furnished with a platform for speech-making (is there any foolishness that men will not commit on sea beaches and mountain tops?), and, what was more to my purpose, was open on three sides. I passed a good deal of time there, first and last, and once it sheltered me from a drenching shower of an hour or two. The lightning was vivid, and the rain fell in sheets. In the midst of the blackness and commotion, a single tern, ghostly white, flew past, and toward the close a bunch of sanderlings came down the edge of the breakers, still looking for something to eat. The only other living things in sight were two young fellows, who had improved the opportunity to try a dip in the surf. Their color indicated that they were not yet hardened to open-air bathing, and from their actions it was evident that they found the ocean cool. They were wet enough before they were done, but it was mostly with fresh water. Probably they took no harm; but I am moved to remark, in passing, that I sometimes wondered how generally physicians who order patients to Florida for the winter caution them against imprudent exposure. To me, who am no doctor, it seemed none too safe for young women with consumptive tendencies to be out sailing in open boats on winter evenings, no matter how warm the afternoon had been, while I saw one case where a surf bath taken by such an invalid was followed by a day of prostration and fever. "We who live here," said a resident, "don't think the water is warm enough yet; but for these Northern folks it is a great thing to go into the surf in February, and you can't keep them out."
The rows of cottages of which I have spoken were in one sense a detriment to the beach; but on the whole, and in their present deserted condition, I found them an advantage. It was easy enough to walk away from them, if a man wanted the feeling of utter solitude (the beach extends from Matanzas Inlet to Mosquito Inlet, thirty-five miles, more or less); while at other times they not only furnished shadow and a seat, but, with the paths and little clearings behind them, were an attraction to many birds. Here I found my first Florida jays. They sat on the chimney-tops and ridgepoles, and I was rejoiced to discover that these unique and interesting creatures, one of the special objects of my journey South, were not only common, but to an extraordinary degree approachable. Their extreme confidence in man is one of their oddest characteristics. I heard from more than one person how easily and "in almost no time" they could be tamed, if indeed they needed taming. A resident of Hawks Park told me that they used to come into his house and stand upon the corners of the dinner table waiting for their share of the meal. When he was hoeing in the garden, they would perch on his hat, and stay there by the hour, unless he drove them off. He never did anything to tame them except to treat them kindly. When a brood was old enough to leave the nest, the parents brought the youngsters up to the doorstep as a matter of course.
The Florida jay, a bird of the scrub, is not to be confounded with the Florida blue jay (a smaller and less conspicuously crested duplicate of our common Northern bird), to which it bears little resemblance either in personal appearance or in voice. Seen from behind, its aspect is peculiarly striking; the head, wings, rump, and tail being dark blue, with an almost rectangular patch of gray set in the midst. Its beak is very stout, and its tail very long; and though it would attract attention anywhere, it is hardly to be called handsome or graceful. Its notes—such of them as I heard, that is—are mostly guttural, with little or nothing of the screaming quality which distinguishes the blue jay's voice. To my ear they were often suggestive of the Northern shrike.
On the 23d of February I was standing on the rear piazza of one of the cottages, when a jay flew into the oak and palmetto scrub close by. A second glance, and I saw that she was busy upon a nest. When she had gone, I moved nearer, and waited. She did not return, and I descended the steps and went to the edge of the thicket to inspect her work: a bulky affair,—nearly done, I thought,—loosely constructed of pretty large twigs. I had barely returned to the veranda before the bird appeared again. This time I was in a position to look squarely in upon her. She had some difficulty in edging her way through the dense bushes with a long, branching stick in her bill; but she accomplished the feat, fitted the new material into its place, readjusted the other twigs a bit here and there, and then, as she rose to depart, she looked me suddenly in the face and stopped, as much as to say, "Well, well! here's a pretty go! A man spying upon me!" I wondered whether she would throw up the work, but in another minute she was back again with another twig. The nest, I should have said, was about four feet from the ground, and perhaps twenty feet from the cottage. Four days later, I found her sitting upon it. She flew off as I came up, and I pushed into the scrub far enough to thrust my hand into the nest, which, to my disappointment, was empty. In fact, it was still far from completed; for on the 3d of March, when I paid it a farewell visit, its owner was still at work lining it with fine grass. At that time it was a comfortable-looking and really elaborate structure. Both the birds came to look at me as I stood on the piazza. They perched together on the top of a stake so narrow that there was scarcely room for their feet; and as they stood thus, side by side, one of them struck its beak several times against the beak of the other, as if in play. I wished them joy of their expected progeny, and was the more ready to believe they would have it for this little display of sportive sentimentality.
It was a distinguished company that frequented that row of narrow back yards on the edge of the sand-hills. As a new-comer, I found the jays (sometimes there were ten under my eye at once) the most entertaining members of it, but if I had been a dweller there for the summer, I should perhaps have altered my opinion; for the group contained four of the finest of Floridian songsters,—the mocking-bird, the brown thrasher, the cardinal grosbeak, and the Carolina wren. Rare morning and evening concerts those cottagers must have. And besides these there were catbirds, ground doves, red-eyed chewinks, white-eyed chewinks, a song sparrow (one of the few that I saw in Florida), savanna sparrows, myrtle birds, redpoll warblers, a phoebe, and two flickers. The last-named birds, by the way, are never backward about displaying their tender feelings. A treetop flirtation is their special delight (I hope my readers have all seen one; few things of the sort are better worth looking at), and here, in the absence of trees, they had taken to the ridgepole of a house.
More than once I remarked white-breasted swallows straggling northward along the line of sand-hills. They were in loose order, but the movement was plainly concerted, with all the look of a vernal migration. This swallow, the first of its family to arrive in New England, remains in Florida throughout the winter, but is known also to go as far south as Central America. The purple martins—which, so far as I am aware, do not winter in Florida—had already begun to make their appearance. While crossing the bridge, February 22, I was surprised to notice two of them sitting upon a bird-box over the draw, which just then stood open for the passage of a tug-boat. The toll-gatherer told me they had come "from some place" eight or ten days before. His attention had been called to them by his cat, who was trying to get up to the box to bid them welcome. He believed that she discovered them within three minutes of their arrival. It seemed not unlikely. In its own way a cat is a pretty sharp ornithologist.
One or two cormorants were almost always about the river. Sometimes they sat upon stakes in a patriotic, spread-eagle (American eagle) attitude, as if drying their wings,—a curious sight till one became accustomed to it. Snakebirds and buzzards resort to the same device, but I cannot recall ever seeing any Northern bird thus engaged. From the south bridge I one morning saw, to my great satisfaction, a couple of white pelicans, the only ones that I found in Florida, though I was assured that within twenty years they had been common along the Halifax and Hillsborough rivers. My birds were flying up the river at a good height. The brown pelicans, on the other hand, made their daily pilgrimages just above the level of the water, as has been already described, and were never over the river, but off the beach.
All in all, there are few pleasanter walks in Florida, I believe, than the beach-round at Daytona, out by one bridge and back by the other. An old hotel-keeper—a rural Yankee, if one could tell anything by his look and speech—said to me in a burst of confidence, "Yes, we've got a climate, and that's about all we have got,—climate and sand." I could not entirely agree with him. For myself, I found not only fine days, but fine prospects. But there was no denying the sand.
ALONG THE HILLSBOROUGH.
Wherever a walker lives, he finds sooner or later one favorite road. So it was with me at New Smyrna, where I lived for three weeks. I had gone there for the sake of the river, and my first impulse was to take the road that runs southerly along its bank. At the time I thought it the most beautiful road I had found in Florida, nor have I seen any great cause since to alter that opinion. With many pleasant windings (beautiful roads are never straight, nor unnecessarily wide, which is perhaps the reason why our rural authorities devote themselves so madly to the work of straightening and widening),—with many pleasant windings, I say,
"The grace of God made manifest in curves,"
it follows the edge of the hammock, having the river on one side, and the forest on the other. It was afternoon when I first saw it. Then it is shaded from the sun, while the river and its opposite bank have on them a light more beautiful than can be described or imagined; a light—with reverence for the poet of nature be it spoken—a light that never was except on sea or land. The poet's dream was never equal to it.
In a flat country stretches of water are doubly welcome. They take the place of hills, and give the eye what it craves,—distance; which softens angles, conceals details, and heightens colors,—in short, transfigures the world with its romancer's touch, and blesses us with illusion. So, as I loitered along the south road, I never tired of looking across the river to the long, wooded island, and over that to the line of sand-hills that marked the eastern rim of the East Peninsula, beyond which was the Atlantic. The white crests of the hills made the sharper points of the horizon line. Elsewhere clumps of nearer pine-trees intervened, while here and there a tall palmetto stood, or seemed to stand, on the highest and farthest ridge looking seaward. But particulars mattered little. The blue water, the pale, changeable grayish-green of the low island woods, the deeper green of the pines, the unnamable hues of the sky, the sunshine that flooded it all, these were beauty enough;—beauty all the more keenly enjoyed because for much of the way it was seen only by glimpses, through vistas of palmetto and live-oak. Sometimes the road came quite out of the woods, as it rounded a turn of the hammock. Then I stopped to gaze long at the scene. Elsewhere I pushed through the hedge at favorable points, and sat, or stood, looking up and down the river. A favorite seat was the prow of an old row-boat, which lay, falling to pieces, high and dry upon the sand. It had made its last cruise, but I found it still useful.
The river is shallow. At low tide sandbars and oyster-beds occupy much of its breadth; and even when it looked full, a great blue heron would very likely be wading in the middle of it. That was a sight to which I had grown accustomed in Florida, where this bird, familiarly known as "the major," is apparently ubiquitous. Too big to be easily hidden, it is also, as a general thing, too wary to be approached within gunshot. I am not sure that I ever came within sight of one, no matter how suddenly or how far away, that it did not give evidence of having seen me first. Long legs, long wings, a long bill—and long sight and long patience: such is the tall bird's dowry. Good and useful qualities, all of them. Long may they avail to put off the day of their owner's extermination.
The major is scarcely a bird of which you can make a pet in your mind, as you may of the chickadee, for instance, or the bluebird, or the hermit thrush. He does not lend himself naturally to such imaginary endearments. But it is pleasant to have him on one's daily beat. I should count it one compensation for having to live in Florida instead of in Massachusetts (but I might require a good many others) that I should see him a hundred times as often. In walking down the river road I seldom saw less than half a dozen; not together (the major, like fishermen in general, is of an unsocial turn), but here one and there one,—on a sand-bar far out in the river, or in some shallow bay, or on the submerged edge of an oyster-flat. Wherever he was, he always looked as if he might be going to do something presently; even now, perhaps, the matter was on his mind; but at this moment—well, there are times when a heron's strength is to stand still. Certainly he seemed in no danger of overeating. A cracker told me that the major made an excellent dish if killed on the full of the moon. I wondered at that qualification, but my informant explained himself. The bird, he said, feeds mostly at night, and fares best with the moon to help him. If the reader would dine off roast blue heron, therefore, as I hope I never shall, let him mind the lunar phases. But think of the gastronomic ups and downs of a bird that is fat and lean by turns twelve times a year! Possibly my informant overstated the case; but in any event I would trust the major to bear himself like a philosopher. If there is any one of God's creatures that can wait for what he wants, it must be the great blue heron.
I have spoken of his caution. If he was patrolling a shallow on one side of an oyster-bar,—at the rate, let us say, of two steps a minute,—and took it into his head (an inappropriate phrase, as conveying an idea of something like suddenness) to try the water on the other side, he did not spread his wings, as a matter of course, and fly over. First he put up his head—an operation that makes another bird of him—and looked in all directions. How could he tell what enemy might be lying in wait? And having alighted on the other side (his manner of alighting is one of his prettiest characteristics), he did not at once draw in his neck till his bill protruded on a level with his body, and resume his labors, but first he looked once more all about him. It was a good habit to do that, anyhow, and he meant to run no risks. If "the race of birds was created out of innocent, light-minded men, whose thoughts were directed toward heaven," according to the word of Plato, then Ardea herodias must long ago have fallen from grace. I imagine his state of mind to be always like that of our pilgrim fathers in times of Indian massacres. When they went after the cows or to hoe the corn, they took their guns with them, and turned no corner without a sharp lookout against ambush. No doubt such a condition of affairs has this advantage, that it makes ennui impossible. There is always something to live for, if it be only to avoid getting killed.
After this manner did the Hillsborough River majors all behave themselves until my very last walk beside it. Then I found the exception,—the exception that is as good as inevitable in the case of any bird, if the observation be carried far enough. He (or she; there was no telling which it was) stood on the sandy beach, a splendid creature in full nuptial garb, two black plumes nodding jauntily from its crown, and masses of soft elongated feathers draping its back and lower neck. Nearer and nearer I approached, till I must have been within a hundred feet; but it stood as if on dress parade, exulting to be looked at. Let us hope it never carried itself thus gayly when the wrong man came along.
Near the major—not keeping him company, but feeding in the same shallows and along the same oyster-bars—were constantly to be seen two smaller relatives of his, the little blue heron and the Louisiana. The former is what is called a dichromatic species; some of the birds are blue, and others white. On the Hillsborough, it seemed to me that white specimens predominated; but possibly that was because they were so much more conspicuous. Sunlight favors the white feather; no other color shows so quickly or so far. If you are on the beach and catch sight of a bird far out at sea,—a gull or a tern, a gannet or a loon,—it is invariably the white parts that are seen first. And so the little white heron might stand never so closely against the grass or the bushes on the further shore of the river, and the eye could not miss him. If he had been a blue one, at that distance, ten to one he would have escaped me. Besides, I was more on the alert for white ones, because I was always hoping to find one of them with black legs. In other words, I was looking for the little white egret, a bird concerning which, thanks to the murderous work of plume-hunters,—thanks, also, to those good women who pay for having the work done,—I must confess that I went to Florida and came home again without certainly seeing it.
The heron with which I found myself especially taken was the Louisiana; a bird of about the same size as the little blue, but with an air of daintiness and lightness that is quite its own, and quite indescribable. When it rose upon the wing, indeed, it seemed almost too light, almost unsteady, as if it lacked ballast, like a butterfly. It was the most numerous bird of its tribe along the river, I think, and, with one exception, the most approachable. That exception was the green heron, which frequented the flats along the village front, and might well have been mistaken for a domesticated bird; letting you walk across a plank directly over its head while it squatted upon the mud, and when disturbed flying into a fig-tree before the hotel piazza, just as the dear little ground doves were in the habit of doing. To me, who had hitherto seen the green heron in the wildest of places, this tameness was an astonishing sight. It would be hard to say which surprised me more, the New Smyrna green herons or the St. Augustine sparrow-hawks, —which latter treated me very much as I am accustomed to being treated by village-bred robins in Massachusetts.
The Louisiana heron was my favorite, as I say, but incomparably the handsomest member of the family (I speak of such as I saw) was the great white egret. In truth, the epithet "handsome" seems almost a vulgarism as applied to a creature so superb, so utterly and transcendently splendid. I saw it—in a way to be sure of it—only once. Then, on an island in the Hillsborough, two birds stood in the dead tops of low shrubby trees, fully exposed in the most favorable of lights, their long dorsal trains drooping behind them and swaying gently in the wind. I had never seen anything so magnificent. And when I returned, two or three hours afterward, from a jaunt up the beach to Mosquito Inlet, there they still were, as if they had not stirred in all that time. The reader should understand that this egret is between four and five feet in length, and measures nearly five feet from wing tip to wing tip, and that its plumage throughout is of spotless white. It is pitiful to think how constantly a bird of that size and color must be in danger of its life.
Happily, the lawmakers of the State have done something of recent years for the protection of such defenseless beauties. Happily, too, shooting from the river boats is no longer permitted,—on the regular lines, that is. I myself saw a young gentleman stand on the deck of an excursion steamer, with a rifle, and do his worst to kill or maim every living thing that came in sight, from a spotted sandpiper to a turkey buzzard! I call him a "gentleman;" he was in gentle company, and the fact that he chewed gum industriously would, I fear, hardly invalidate his claim to that title. The narrow river wound in and out between low, densely wooded banks, and the beauty of the shifting scene was enough almost to take one's breath away; but the crack of the rifle was not the less frequent on that account. Perhaps the sportsman was a Southerner, to whom river scenery of that enchanting kind was an old story. More likely he was a Northerner, one of the men who thank Heaven they are "not sentimental."
In my rambles up and down the river road I saw few water birds beside the herons. Two or three solitary cormorants would be shooting back and forth at a furious rate, or swimming in midstream; and sometimes a few spotted sandpipers and killdeer plovers were feeding along the shore. Once in a great while a single gull or tern made its appearance,—just often enough to keep me wondering why they were not there oftener,—and one day a water turkey went suddenly over my head and dropped into the river on the farther side of the island. I was glad to see this interesting creature for once in salt water; for the Hillsborough, like the Halifax and the Indian rivers, is a river in name only,—a river by brevet,—being, in fact, a salt-water lagoon or sound between the mainland and the eastern peninsula.
Fish-hawks were always in sight, and bald eagles were seldom absent altogether. Sometimes an eagle stood perched on a dead tree on an island. Oftener I heard a scream, and looked up to see one sailing far overhead, or chasing an osprey. On one such occasion, when the hawk seemed to be making a losing fight, a third bird suddenly intervened, and the eagle, as I thought, was driven away. "Good for the brotherhood of fish-hawks!" I exclaimed. But at that moment I put my glass on the new-comer; and behold, he was not a hawk, but another eagle. Meanwhile the hawk had disappeared with his fish, and I was left to ponder the mystery.
As for the wood, the edge of the hammock, through which the road passes, there were no birds in it. It was one of those places (I fancy every bird-gazer must have had experience of such) where it is a waste of time to seek them. I could walk down the road for two miles and back again, and then sit in my room at the hotel for fifteen minutes, and see more wood birds, and more kinds of them, in one small live-oak before the window than I had seen in the whole four miles; and that not once and by accident, but again and again. In affairs of this kind it is useless to contend. The spot looks favorable, you say, and nobody can deny it; there must be birds there, plenty of them; your missing them to-day was a matter of chance; you will try again. And you try again—and again—and yet again. But in the end you have to acknowledge that, for some reason unknown to you, the birds have agreed to give that place the go-by.
One bird, it is true, I found in this hammock, and not elsewhere: a single oven-bird, which, with one Northern water thrush and one Louisiana water thrush, completed my set of Florida Seiuri. Besides him I recall one hermit thrush, a few cedar-birds, a house wren, chattering at a great rate among the "bootjacks" (leaf-stalks) of an overturned palmetto-tree, with an occasional mocking-bird, cardinal grosbeak, prairie warbler, yellow redpoll, myrtle bird, ruby-crowned kinglet, phoebe, and flicker. In short, there were no birds at all, except now and then an accidental straggler of a kind that could be found almost anywhere else in indefinite numbers.
And as it was not the presence of birds that made the river road attractive, so neither was it any unwonted display of blossoms. Beside a similar road along the bank of the Halifax, in Daytona, grew multitudes of violets, and goodly patches of purple verbena (garden plants gone wild, perhaps), and a fine profusion of spiderwort,—a pretty flower, the bluest of the blue, thrice welcome to me as having been one of the treasures of the very first garden of which I have any remembrance. "Indigo plant," we called it then. Here, however, on the way from New Smyrna to Hawks Park, I recall no violets, nor any verbena or spiderwort. Yellow wood-sorrel (oxalis) was here, of course, as it was everywhere. It dotted the grass in Florida very much as five-fingers do in Massachusetts, I sometimes thought. And the creeping, round-leaved houstonia was here, with a superfluity of a weedy blue sage (Salvia lyrata). Here, also, as in Daytona, I found a strikingly handsome tufted plant, a highly varnished evergreen, which I persisted in taking for a fern—the sterile fronds—in spite of repeated failures to find it described by Dr. Chapman under that head, until at last an excellent woman came to my help with the information that it was "coontie" (Zamia integrifolia), famous as a plant out of which the Southern people made bread in war time. This confession of botanical amateurishness and incompetency will be taken, I hope, as rather to my credit than otherwise; but it would be morally worthless if I did not add the story of another plant, which, in this same New Smyrna hammock, I frequently noticed hanging in loose bunches, like blades of flaccid deep green grass, from the trunks of cabbage palmettos. The tufts were always out of reach, and I gave them no particular thought; and it was not until I got home to Massachusetts, and then almost by accident, that I learned what they were. They, it turned out, were ferns (Vittaria lineata—grass fern), and my discomfiture was complete.
This comparative dearth of birds and flowers was not in all respects a disadvantage. On the contrary, to a naturalist blessed now and then with a supernaturalistic mood, it made the place, on occasion, a welcome retreat. Thus, one afternoon, as I remember, I had been reading Keats, the only book I had brought with me,—not counting manuals, of course, which come under another head,—and by and by started once more for the pine lands by the way of the cotton-shed hammock, "to see what I could see." But poetry had spoiled me just then for anything like scientific research, and as I waded through the ankle-deep sand I said to myself all at once, "No, no! What do I care for another new bird? I want to see the beauty of the world." With that I faced about, and, taking a side track, made as directly as possible for the river road. There I should have a mind at ease, with no unfamiliar, tantalizing bird note to set my curiosity on edge, nor any sand through which to be picking my steps.
The river road is paved with oyster-shells. If any reader thinks that statement prosaic or unimportant, then he has never lived in southern Florida. In that part of the world all new-comers have to take walking-lessons; unless, indeed, they have already served an apprenticeship on Cape Cod, or in some other place equally arenarious. My own lesson I got at second hand, and on a Sunday. It was at New Smyrna, in the village. Two women were behind me, on their way home from church, and one of them was complaining of the sand, to which she was not yet used. "Yes," said the other, "I found it pretty hard walking at first, but I learned after a while that the best way is to set the heel down hard, as hard as you can; then the sand doesn't give under you so much, and you get along more comfortably." I wonder whether she noticed, just in front of her, a man who began forthwith to bury his boot heel at every step?
In such a country (the soil is said to be good for orange-trees, but they do not have to walk) roads of powdered shell are veritable luxuries, and land agents are quite right in laying all stress upon them as inducements to possible settlers. If the author of the Apocalypse had been raised in Florida, we should never have had the streets of the New Jerusalem paved with gold. His idea of heaven, would have been different from that; more personal and home-felt, we may be certain.
The river road, then, as I have said, and am glad to say again, was shell-paved. And well it might be; for the hammock, along the edge of which it meandered, seemed, in some places at least, to be little more than a pile of oyster-shells, on which soil had somehow been deposited, and over which a forest was growing. Florida Indians have left an evil memory. I heard a philanthropic visitor lamenting that she had talked with many of the people about them, and had yet to hear a single word said in their favor. Somebody might have been good enough to say that, with all their faults, they had given to eastern Florida a few hills, such as they are, and at present are supplying it, indirectly, with comfortable highways. How they must have feasted, to leave such heaps of shells behind them! They came to the coast on purpose, we may suppose. Well, the red-men are gone, but the oyster-beds remain; and if winter refugees continue to pour in this direction, as doubtless they will, they too will eat a "heap" of oysters (it is easy to see how the vulgar Southern use of that word may have originated), and in the course of time, probably, the shores of the Halifax and the Hillsborough will be a fine mountainous country! And then, if this ancient, nineteenth-century prediction is remembered, the highest peak of the range will perhaps be named in a way which the innate modesty of the prophet restrains him from specifying with greater particularity.
Meanwhile it is long to wait, and tourists and residents alike must find what comfort they can in the lesser hills which, thanks to the good appetite of their predecessors, are already theirs. For my own part, there is one such eminence of which I cherish the most grateful recollections. It stands (or stood; the road-makers had begun carting it away) at a bend in the road just south of one of the Turnbull canals. I climbed it often (it can hardly be less than fifteen or twenty feet above the level of the sea), and spent more than one pleasant hour upon its grassy summit. Northward was New Smyrna, a village in the woods, and farther away towered the lighthouse of Mosquito Inlet. Along the eastern sky stretched the long line of the peninsula sand-hills, between the white crests of which could be seen the rude cottages of Coronado beach. To the south and west was the forest, and in front, at my feet, lay the river with its woody islands. Many times have I climbed a mountain and felt myself abundantly repaid by an off-look less beautiful. This was the spot to which I turned when I had been reading Keats, and wanted to see the beauty of the world. Here were a grassy seat, the shadow of orange-trees, and a wide prospect. In Florida, I found no better place in which a man who wished to be both a naturalist and a nature-lover, who felt himself heir to a double inheritance,
"The clear eye's moiety and the dear heart's part,"
could for the time sit still and be happy.
The orange-trees yielded other things beside shadow, though perhaps nothing better than that. They were resplendent with fruit, and on my earlier visits were also in bloom. One did not need to climb the hill to learn the fact. For an out-of-door sweetness it would be hard, I think, to improve upon the scent of orange blossoms. As for the oranges themselves, they seemed to be in little demand, large and handsome as they were. Southern people in general, I fancy, look upon wild fruit of this kind as not exactly edible. I remember asking two colored men in Tallahassee whether the oranges still hanging conspicuously from a tree just over the wall (a sight not so very common in that part of the State) were sweet or sour. I have forgotten just what they said, but I remember how they looked. I meant the inquiry as a mild bit of humor, but to them it was a thousandfold better than that: it was wit ineffable. What Shakespeare said about the prosperity of a jest was never more strikingly exemplified. In New Smyrna, with orange groves on every hand, the wild fruit went begging with natives and tourists alike; so that I feel a little hesitancy about confessing my own relish for it, lest I should be accused of affectation. Not that I devoured wild oranges by the dozen, or in place of sweet ones; one sour orange goes a good way, as the common saying is; but I ate them, nevertheless, or rather drank them, and found them, in a thirsty hour, decidedly refreshing.
The unusual coldness of the past season (Florida winters, from what I heard about them, must have fallen of late into a queer habit of being regularly exceptional) had made it difficult to buy sweet oranges that were not dry and "punky" toward the stem; but the hardier wild fruit had weathered the frost, and was so juicy that, as I say, you did not so much eat one as drink it. As for the taste, it was a wholesome bitter-sour, as if a lemon had been flavored with quinine; not quite so sour as a lemon, perhaps, nor quite so bitter as Peruvian bark, but, as it were, an agreeable compromise between the two. When I drank one, I not only quenched my thirst, but felt that I had taken an infallible prophylactic against the malarial fever. Better still, I had surprised myself. For one who had felt a lifelong distaste, unsocial and almost unmanly, for the bitter drinks which humanity in general esteems so essential to its health and comfort, I was developing new and unexpected capabilities; than which few things can be more encouraging as years increase upon a man's head, and the world seems to be closing in about him.