Wilderness Ways
By William J. Long 9 Nov, 2018
PREFACE. The following sketches, like the "Ways of Wood Folk", are the result of many years of personal observation in the woods and fields. They are studies of animals, pure and simple, not of animals with human motives and imaginations. Indeed, ... Read more
PREFACE. The following sketches, like the "Ways of Wood Folk", are the result of many years of personal observation in the woods and fields. They are studies of animals, pure and simple, not of animals with human motives and imaginations. Indeed, it is hardly necessary for genuine interest to give human traits to the beasts. Any animal is interesting enough as an animal, and has character enough of his own, without borrowing anything from man—as one may easily find out by watching long enough. Most wild creatures have but small measure of gentleness in them, and that only by instinct and at short stated seasons. Hence I have given both sides and both kinds, the shadows and lights, the savagery as well as the gentleness of the wilderness creatures. It were pleasanter, to be sure, especially when you have been deeply touched by some exquisite bit of animal devotion, to let it go at that, and to carry with you henceforth an ideal creature. But the whole truth is better—better for you, better for children—else personality becomes confused with mere animal individuality, and love turns to instinct, and sentiment vaporizes into sentimentality. This mother fox or fish-hawk here, this strong mother loon or lynx that to-day brings the quick moisture to your eyes by her utter devotion to the little helpless things which great Mother Nature gave her to care for, will to-morrow, when they are grown, drive those same little ones with savage treatment into the world to face its dangers alone, and will turn away from their sufferings thereafter with astounding indifference. It is well to remember this, and to give proper weight to the word, when we speak of the love of animals for their little ones. I met a bear once—but this foolish thing is not to be imitated—with two small cubs following at her heels. The mother fled into the brush; the cubs took to a tree. After some timorous watching I climbed after the cubs, and shook them off, and put them into a bag, and carried them to my canoe, squealing and appealing to the one thing in the woods that could easily have helped them. I was ready enough to quit all claims and to take to the brush myself upon inducement. But the mother had found a blueberry patch and was stuffing herself industriously. And I have seen other mother bears since then, and foxes and deer and ducks and sparrows, and almost all the wild creatures between, driving their own offspring savagely away. Generally the young go of their [VII] own accord as early as possible, knowing no affection but only dependence, and preferring liberty to authority; but more than once I have been touched by the sight of a little one begging piteously to be fed or just to stay, while the mother drove him away impatiently. Moreover, they all kill their weaklings, as a rule, and the burdensome members of too large a family. This is not poetry or idealization, but just plain animal nature. As for the male animals, little can be said truthfully for their devotion. Father fox and wolf, instead of caring for their mates and their offspring, as we fondly imagine, live apart by themselves in utter selfishness. They do nothing whatever for the support or instruction of the young, and are never suffered by the mothers to come into the den, lest they destroy their own little ones. One need not go to the woods to see this; his own stable or kennel, his own dog or cat will be likely to reveal the startling brutality at the first good opportunity. An indiscriminate love for all animals, likewise, is not the best sentiment to cultivate toward creation. Black snakes in a land of birds, sharks in the bluefish rips, rabbits in Australia, and weasels everywhere are out of place in the present economy of nature. Big owls and hawks, representing a yearly destruction of thousands of good game birds and of untold innocent songsters, may also be profitably studied with a gun sometimes instead of an opera-glass. A mink is good for nothing but his skin; a red squirrel—I hesitate to tell his true character lest I spoil too many tender but false ideals about him all at once. The point is this, that sympathy is too true a thing to be aroused falsely, and that a wise discrimination, which recognizes good and evil in the woods, as everywhere else in the world, and which loves the one and hates the other, is vastly better for children, young and old, than the blind sentimentality aroused by ideal animals with exquisite human propensities. Therefore I wrote the story of Kagax, simply to show him as he is, and so to make you hate him. In this one chapter, the story of Kagax the Weasel, I have gathered into a single animal the tricks and cruelties of a score of vicious little brutes that I have caught red-handed at their work. In the other chapters I have, for the most part, again searched my old notebooks and the records of wilderness camps, and put the individual animals down just as I found them. Less
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  • Public Domain Books
  • 2008-11-20
  • English
  • 9781530600021
William Joseph Long was an American writer, naturalist and minister. He lived and worked in Stamford, Connecticut as a minister of the First Congregationalist Church....
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