Secret of the Woods
William J. Long

Part 1 out of 3

Scanned by Dianne Bean of Phoenix, Arizona.


Wood Folk Series Book Three


Friend Ch'geegee," whose
coming makes the winter glad.


This little book is but another chapter in the shy 'wild life of
the fields and woods' of which "Ways of Wood Folk" and
"Wilderness Ways " were the beginning. It is given gladly in
answer to the call for more from those who have read the previous
volumes, and whose letters are full of the spirit of kindness
and appreciation.

Many questions have come of late with these same letters;
chief of which is this: How shall one discover such things for
himself? how shall we, too, read the secrets of the Wood Folk?
There is no space here to answer, to describe the long
training, even if one could explain perfectly what is more or
less unconscious. I would only suggest that perhaps the real
reason why we see so little in the woods is the way we go through
them--talking, laughing, rustling, smashing twigs, disturbing the
peace of the solitudes by what must seem strange and uncouth
noises to the little wild creatures. They, on the other hand,
slip with noiseless feet through their native coverts, shy,
silent, listening, more concerned to hear than to be heard,
loving the silence, hating noise and fearing it, as they fear and
hate their natural enemies.

We would not feel comfortable if a big barbarian came into
our quiet home, broke the door down, whacked his war-club on the
furniture, and whooped his battle yell. We could hardly be
natural under the circumstances. Our true dispositions would hide
themselves. We might even vacate the house bodily. Just so Wood
Folk. Only as you copy their ways can you expect to share their
life and their secrets. And it is astonishing how little the
shyest of them fears you, if you but keep silence and avoid all
excitement, even of feeling; for they understand your feeling
quite as much as your action.

A dog knows when you are afraid of him; when you are hostile;
when friendly. So does a bear. Lose your nerve, and the horse you
are riding goes to pieces instantly. Bubble over with suppressed
excitement, and the deer yonder, stepping daintily down the bank
to your canoe in the water grasses, will stamp and snort and
bound away without ever knowing what startled him. But be quiet,
friendly, peace-possessed in the same place, and the deer, even
after discovering you, will draw near and show his curiosity in
twenty pretty ways ere he trots away, looking back over his
shoulder for your last message. Then be generous--show him the
flash of a looking-glass, the flutter of a bright handkerchief, a
tin whistle, or any other little kickshaw that the remembrance of
a boy's pocket may suggest--and the chances are that he will come
back again, finding curiosity so richly rewarded.

That is another point to remember: all the Wood Folk are more
curious about you than you are about them. Sit down quietly in
the woods anywhere, and your coming will occasion the same stir
that a stranger makes in a New England hill town. Control your
curiosity, and soon their curiosity gets beyond control; they
must come to find out who you are and what you are doing. Then
you have the advantage; for, while their curiosity is being
satisfied, they forget fear and show you many curious bits of
their life that you will never discover otherwise.

As to the source of these sketches, it is the same as that of the
others years of quiet observation in the woods and fields, and
some old notebooks which hold the records of summer and winter
camps in the great wilderness.

My kind publishers announced, some time ago, a table of contents,
which included chapters on jay and fish-hawk, panther, and
musquash, and a certain savage old bull moose that once took up
his abode too near my camp for comfort. My only excuse for their
non-appearance is that my little book was full before their turn
came. They will find their place, I trust, in another volume

STAMFORD, CONN., June, 1901. Wm. J. LONG.





Little Tookhees the wood mouse, the 'Fraid One, as Simmo calls
him, always makes two appearances when you squeak to bring him
out. First, after much peeking, he runs out of his tunnel; sits
up once on his hind legs; rubs his eyes with his paws; looks up
for the owl, and behind him for the fox, and straight ahead at
the tent where the man lives; then he dives back headlong into
his tunnel with a rustle of leaves and a frightened whistle, as
if Kupkawis the little owl had seen him. That is to reassure
himself. In a moment he comes back softly to see what kind of
crumbs you have given him.

No wonder Tookhees is so timid, for there is no place in earth or
air or water, outside his own little doorway under the mossy
stone, where he is safe. Above him the owls watch by night and
the hawks by day; around him not a prowler of the wilderness,
from Mooween the bear down through a score of gradations, to
Kagax the bloodthirsty little weasel, but will sniff under every
old log in the hope of finding a wood mouse; and if he takes a
swim, as he is fond of doing, not a big trout in the river but
leaves his eddy to rush at the tiny ripple holding bravely across
the current. So, with all these enemies waiting to catch him the
moment he ventures out, Tookhees must needs make one or two false
starts in order to find out where the coast is clear.

That is why he always dodges back after his first appearance; why
he gives you two or three swift glimpses of himself, now here,
now there, before coming out into the light. He knows his enemies
are so hungry, so afraid he will get away or that somebody else
will catch him, that they jump for him the moment he shows a
whisker. So eager are they for his flesh, and so sure, after
missing him, that the swoop of wings or the snap of red jaws has
scared him into permanent hiding, that they pass on to other
trails. And when a prowler, watching from behind a stump, sees
Tookhees flash out of sight and hears his startled squeak, he
thinks naturally that the keen little eyes have seen the tail,
which he forgot to curl close enough, and so sneaks away as if
ashamed of himself. Not even the fox, whose patience is without
end, has learned the wisdom of waiting for Tookhees' second
appearance. And that is the salvation of the little 'Fraid One.

From all these enemies Tookhees has one refuge, the little arched
nest beyond the pretty doorway under the mossy stone. Most of
his enemies can dig, to be sure, but his tunnel winds about in
such a way that they never can tell from the looks of his doorway
where it leads to; and there are no snakes in the wilderness to
follow and find out. Occasionally I have seen where Mooween the
bear has turned the stone over and clawed the earth beneath; but
there is generally a tough root in the way, and Mooween concludes
that he is taking too much trouble for so small a mouthful, and
shuffles off to the log where the red ants live.

On his journeys through the woods Tookhees never forgets the
dangerous possibilities. His progress is a series of jerks, and
whisks, and jumps, and hidings. He leaves his doorway, after much
watching, and shoots like a minnow across the moss to an
upturned root. There he sits up and listens, rubbing his whiskers
nervously. Then he glides along the root for a couple of feet,
drops to the ground and disappears. He is hiding there under a
dead leaf. A moment of stillness and he jumps like a
jack-in-abox. Now he is sitting on the leaf that covered him,
rubbing his whiskers again, looking back over his trail as if he
heard footsteps behind him. Then another nervous dash, a squeak
which proclaims at once his escape. and his arrival, and he
vanishes under the old moss-grown log where his fellows live, a
whole colony of them.

All these things, and many more, I discovered the first season
that I began to study the wild things that lived within sight of
my tent. I had been making long excursions after bear and beaver,
following on wild-goose chases after Old Whitehead the eagle and
Kakagos the wild woods raven that always escaped me, only to
find that within the warm circle of my camp-fire little wild folk
were hiding whose lives were more unknown and quite as
interesting as the greater creatures I had been following.

One day, as I returned quietly to camp, I saw Simmo quite lost in
watching something near my tent. He stood beside a great birch
tree, one hand resting against the bark that he would claim next
winter for his new canoe; the other hand still grasped his axe,
which he had picked up a moment before to quicken the tempo of
the bean kettle's song. His dark face peered behind the tree with
a kind of childlike intensity written all over it.

I stole nearer without his hearing me; but I could see nothing.
The woods were all still. Killooleet was dozing by his nest; the
chickadees had vanished, knowing that it was not meal time; and
Meeko the red squirrel had been made to jump from the fir top to
the ground so often that now he kept sullenly to his own hemlock
across the island, nursing his sore feet and scolding like a fury
whenever I approached. Still Simmo watched, as if a bear were
approaching his bait, till I whispered, "Quiee, Simmo, what is

"Nodwar k'chee Toquis, I see little 'Fraid One'" he said,
unconsciously dropping into his own dialect, which is the softest
speech in the world, so soft that wild things are not disturbed
when they hear it, thinking it only a louder sough of the pines
or a softer tunking of ripples on the rocks.--"O bah cosh, see!
He wash-um face in yo lil cup." And when I tiptoed to his side,
there was Tookhees sitting on the rim of my drinking cup, in
which I had left a new leader to soak for the evening's fishing,
scrubbing his face diligently, like a boy who is watched from
behind to see that he slights not his ears or his neck.

Remembering my own boyhood on cold mornings, I looked behind him
to see if he also were under compulsion, but there was no other
mouse in sight. He would scoop up a double handful of water in
his paws, rub it rapidly up over nose and eyes, and then behind
his ears, on the spots that wake you up quickest when you are
sleepy. Then another scoop of water, and another vigorous rub,
ending behind his ears as before.

Simmo was full of wonder, for an Indian notices few things in the
woods beside those that pertain to his trapping and hunting; and
to see a mouse wash his face was as incomprehensible to him as to
see me read a book. But all wood mice are very cleanly; they have
none of the strong odors of our house mice. Afterwards, while
getting acquainted, I saw him wash many times in the plate of
water that I kept filled near his den; but he never washed more
than his face and the sensitive spot behind his ears. Sometimes,
however, when I have seen him swimming in the lake or river, I
have wondered whether he were going on a journey, or just bathing
for the love of it, as he washed his face in my cup.

I left the cup where it was and spread a feast for the little
guest, cracker crumbs and a bit of candle end. In the morning
they were gone, the signs of several mice telling plainly who had
been called in from the wilderness byways. That was the
introduction of man to beast. Soon they came regularly. I had
only to scatter crumbs and squeak a few times like a mouse, when
little streaks and flashes would appear on the moss or among the
faded gold tapestries of old birch leaves, and the little wild
things would come to my table, their eyes shining like jet, their
tiny paws lifted to rub their whiskers or to shield themselves
from the fear under which they lived continually.

They were not all alike--quite the contrary. One, the same who
had washed in my cup, was gray and old, and wise from much
dodging of enemies. His left ear was split from a fight, or an
owl's claw, probably, that just missed him as he dodged under a
root. He was at once the shyest and boldest of the lot. For a day
or two he came with marvelous stealth, making use of every dead
leaf and root tangle to hide his approach, and shooting across
the open spaces so quickly that one knew not what had happened-
-just a dun streak which ended in nothing. And the brown leaf
gave no sign of what it sheltered. But once assured of his
ground, he came boldly. This great man-creature, with his face
close to the table, perfectly still but for his eyes, with a
hand that moved gently if it moved at all, was not to be
feared--that Tookhees felt instinctively. And this strange fire
with hungry odors, and the white tent, and the comings and goings
of men who were masters of the woods kept fox and lynx and owl
far away--that he learned after a day or two. Only the mink, who
crept in at night to steal the man's fish, was to be feared. So
Tookhees presently gave up his nocturnal habits and came out
boldly into the sunlight. Ordinarily the little creatures come
out in the dusk, when their quick movements are hidden among the
shadows that creep and quiver. But with fear gone, they are only
too glad to run about in the daylight, especially when good
things to eat are calling them.

Besides the veteran there was a little mother-mouse, whose tiny
gray jacket was still big enough to cover a wonderful mother
love, as I afterwards found out. She never ate at my table, but
carried her fare away into hiding, not to feed her little
ones-they were, too small as yet--but thinking in some dumb way,
behind the bright little eyes, that they needed her and that her
life must be spared with greater precaution for their sakes. She
would steal timidly to my table, always appearing from under a
gray shred of bark on a fallen birch log, following the same
path, first to a mossy stone, then to a dark hole under a root,
then to a low brake, and along the underside of a billet of wood
to the mouse table. There she would stuff both cheeks hurriedly,
till they bulged as if she had toothache, and steal away by the
same path, disappearing at last under the shred of gray bark.

For a long time it puzzled me to find her nest, which I knew
could not be far away. It was not in the birch log where she
disappeared--that was hollow the whole length--nor was it
anywhere beneath it. Some distance away was a large stone, half
covered by the green moss which reached up from every side. The
most careful search here had failed to discover any trace of
Tookhees' doorway; so one day when the wind blew half a gale and
I was going out on the lake alone, I picked up this stone to put
in the bow of my canoe. That was to steady the little craft by
bringing her nose down to grip the water. Then the secret was
out, and there it was in a little dome of dried grass among some
spruce roots under the stone.

The mother was away foraging, but a faint sibilant squeaking
within the dome told me that the little ones were there, and
hungry as usual. As I watched there was a swift movement in a
tunnel among the roots, and the mother-mouse came rushing back.
She paused a moment, lifting her forepaws against a root to sniff
what danger threatened. Then she saw my face bending over the
opening--Et tu Brute! and she darted into the nest. In a moment
she was out again and disappeared into her tunnel, running
swiftly with her little ones hanging to her sides by a grip that
could not be shaken,--all but one, a delicate pink creature that
one could hide in a thimble, and that snuggled down in the
darkest corner of my hand confidently.

It was ten minutes before the little mother came back, looking
anxiously for the lost baby. When she found him safe in his own
nest, with the man's face still watching, she was half reassured;
but when she threw herself down and the little one began to
drink, she grew fearful again and ran away into the tunnel, the
little one clinging to her side, this time securely.

I put the stone back and gathered the moss carefully about it. In
a few days Mother Mouse was again at my table. I stole away to
the stone, put my ear close to it, and heard with immense
satisfaction tiny squeaks, which told me that the house was again
occupied. Then I watched to find the path by which Mother Mouse
came to her own. When her cheeks were full, she disappeared under
the shred of bark by her usual route. That led into the hollow
center of the birch log, which she followed to the end, where she
paused a moment, eyes, ears, and nostrils busy; then she jumped
to a tangle of roots and dead leaves, beneath which was a tunnel
that led, deep down under the moss, straight to her nest beneath
the stone.

Besides these older mice, there were five or six smaller ones,
all shy save one, who from the first showed not the slightest
fear but came straight to my hand, ate his crumbs, and went up my
sleeve, and proceeded to make himself a warm nest there by
nibbling wool from my flannel shirt.

In strong contrast to this little fellow was another who knew
too well what fear meant. He belonged to another tribe that had
not yet grown accustomed to man's ways. I learned too late how
careful one must be in handling the little creatures that live
continually in the land where fear reigns.

A little way behind my tent was a great fallen log, mouldy and
moss-grown, with twin-flowers shaking their bells along its
length, under which lived a whole colony of wood mice. They ate
the crumbs that I placed by the log; but they could never be
tolled to my table, whether because they had no split-eared old
veteran to spy out the man's ways, or because my own colony drove
them away, I could never find out. One day I saw Tookhees dive
under the big log as I approached, and having nothing more
important to do, I placed one big crumb near his entrance,
stretched out in the moss, hid my hand in a dead brake near the
tempting morsel, and squeaked the call. In a moment Tookhees'
nose and eyes appeared in his doorway, his whiskers twitching
nervously as he smelled the candle grease. But he was suspicious
of the big object, or perhaps he smelled the man too and was
afraid, for after much dodging in and out he disappeared

I was wondering how long his hunger would battle with his
caution, when I saw the moss near my bait stir from beneath. A
little waving of the moss blossoms, and Tookhees' nose and eyes
appeared out of the ground for an instant, sniffing in all
directions. His little scheme was evident enough now; he was
tunneling for the morsel that he dared not take openly. I watched
with breathless interest as a faint quiver nearer my bait showed
where he was pushing his works. Then the moss stirred cautiously
close beside his objective; a hole opened; the morsel tumbled in,
and Tookhees was gone with his prize.

I placed more crumbs from my pocket in the same place, and
presently three or four mice were nibbling them. One sat up close
by the dead brake, holding a bit of bread in his forepaws like a
squirrel. The brake stirred suddenly; before he could jump my
hand closed over him, and slipping the other hand beneath him I
held him up to my face to watch him between my fingers. He made
no movement to escape, but only trembled violently. His legs
seemed too weak to support his weight now; he lay down; his eyes
closed. One convulsive twitch and he was dead--dead of fright in
a hand which had not harmed him.

It was at this colony, whose members were all strangers to me,
that I learned in a peculiar way of the visiting habits of wood
mice, and at the same time another lesson that I shall not soon
forget. For several days I had been trying every legitimate way
in vain to catch a big trout, a monster of his kind, that lived
in an eddy behind a rock up at the inlet. Trout were scarce in
that lake, and in summer the big fish are always lazy and hard to
catch. I was trout hungry most of the time, for the fish that I
caught were small, and few and far between. Several times,
however, when casting from the shore at the inlet for small
fish, I had seen swirls in a great eddy near the farther shore,
which told me plainly of big fish beneath; and one day, when a
huge trout rolled half his length out of water behind my fly,
small fry lost all their interest and I promised myself the joy
of feeling my rod bend and tingle beneath the rush of that big
trout if it took all summer.

Flies were no use. I offered him a bookful, every variety of
shape and color, at dawn and dusk, without tempting him. I tried
grubs, which bass like, and a frog's leg, which no pickerel can
resist, and little frogs, such as big trout hunt among the lily
pads in the twilight,--all without pleasing him. And then
waterbeetles, and a red squirrel's tail-tip, which makes the best
hackle in the world, and kicking grasshoppers, and a silver spoon
with a wicked "gang" of hooks, which I detest and which, I am
thankful to remember, the trout detested also. They lay there in
their big cool eddy, lazily taking what food the stream brought
down to them, giving no heed to frauds of any kind.

Then I caught a red-fin in the stream above, hooked it securely,
laid it on a big chip, coiled my line upon it, and set it
floating down stream, the line uncoiling gently behind it as it
went. When it reached the eddy I raised my rod tip; the line
straightened; the red-fin plunged overboard, and a two-pound
trout, thinking, no doubt, that the little fellow had been hiding
under the chip, rose for him and took him in. That was the only
one I caught. His struggle disturbed the pool, and the other
trout gave no heed to more red-fins.

Then, one morning at daybreak, as I sat on a big rock pondering
new baits and devices, a stir on an alder bush across the stream
caught my eye. Tookhees the wood mouse was there, running over
the bush, evidently for the black catkins which still clung to
the tips. As I watched him he fell, or jumped from his branch
into the quiet water below and, after circling about for a
moment, headed bravely across the current. I could just see his
nose as he swam, a rippling wedge against the black water with a
widening letter V trailing out behind him. The current swept him
downward; he touched the edge of the big eddy; there was a swirl,
a mighty plunge beneath, and Tookhees was gone, leaving no trace
but a swift circle of ripples that were swallowed up in the rings
and dimples behind the rock.--I had found what bait the big trout

Hurrying back to camp, I loaded a cartridge lightly with a pinch
of dust shot, spread some crumbs near the big log behind my tent,
squeaked the call a few times, and sat down to wait. "These mice
are strangers to me," I told Conscience, who was protesting a
little, "and the woods are full of them, and I want that trout."

In a moment there was a rustle in the mossy doorway and Tookhees
appeared. He darted across the open, seized a crumb in his mouth,
sat up on his hind legs, took the crumb in his paws, and began to
eat. I had raised the gun, thinking he would dodge back a few
times before giving me a shot; his boldness surprised me, but I
did not recognize him. Still my eye followed along the barrels
and over the sight to where Tookhees sat eating his crumb. My
finger was pressing the trigger--"O you big butcher," said
Conscience, "think how little he is, and what a big roar your gun
will make! Aren't you ashamed?"

"But I want the trout," I protested.

"Catch him then, without killing this little harmless thing,"
said Conscience sternly.

"But he is a stranger to me; I never--"

"He is eating your bread and salt," said Conscience. That settled
it; but even as I looked at him over the gun sight, Tookhees
finished his crumb, came to my foot, ran along my leg into my
lap, and looked into my face expectantly. The grizzled coat and
the split ear showed the welcome guest at my table for a week
past. He was visiting the stranger colony, as wood mice are fond
of doing, and persuading them by his example that they might
trust me, as he did. More ashamed than if I had been caught
potting quail, I threw away the hateful shell that had almost
slain my friend. and went back to camp.

There I made a mouse of a bit of muskrat fur, with a piece of my
leather shoestring sewed on for a tail. It served the purpose
perfectly, for within the hour I was gloating over the size and
beauty of the big trout as he stretched his length on the rock
beside me. But I lost the fraud at the next cast, leaving it,
with a foot of my leader, in the mouth of a second trout that
rolled up at it the instant it touched his eddy behind the rock.

After that the wood mice were safe so far as I was concerned. Not
a trout, though he were big as a salmon, would ever taste them,
unless they chose to go swimming of their own accord; and I kept
their table better supplied than before. I saw much of their
visiting back and forth, and have understood better what those
tunnels mean that one finds in the spring when the last snows are
melting. In a corner of the woods, where the drifts lay, you will
often find a score of tunnels coming in from all directions to a
central chamber. They speak of Tookhees' sociable nature, of his
long visits with his fellows, undisturbed by swoop or snap, when
the packed snow above has swept the summer fear away and made him
safe from hawk and owl and fox and wildcat, and when no open
water tempts him to go swimming where Skooktum the big trout lies
waiting, mouse hungry, under his eddy.

The weeks passed all too quickly, as wilderness weeks do, and the
sad task of breaking camp lay just before us. But one thing
troubled me--the little Tookhees, who knew no fear, but tried to
make a nest in the sleeve of my flannel shirt. His simple
confidence touched me more than the curious ways of all the other
mice. Every day he came and took his crumbs, not from the common
table, but from my, hand, evidently enjoying its warmth while he
ate, and always getting the choicest morsels. But I knew that he
would be the first one caught by the owl after I left; for it is
fear only that saves the wild things. Occasionally one finds
animals of various kinds in which the instinct of fear is
lacking--a frog, a young partridge, a moose calf--and wonders
what golden age that knew no fear, or what glorious vision of
Isaiah in which lion and lamb lie down together, is here set
forth. I have even seen a young black duck, whose natural
disposition is wild as the wilderness itself, that had profited
nothing by his mother's alarms and her constant lessons in
hiding, but came bobbing up to my canoe among the sedges of a
wilderness lake, while his brethren crouched invisible in their
coverts of bending rushes, and his mother flapped wildly off,
splashing and quacking and trailing a wing to draw me away from
the little ones.

Such an one is generally abandoned by its mother, or else is the
first to fall in the battle with the strong before she gives him
up as hopeless. Little Tookhees evidently belonged to this class,
so before leaving I undertook the task of teaching him fear,
which had evidently been too much for Nature and his own mother.
I pinched him a few times, hooting like an owl as I did so,--a
startling process, which sent the other mice diving like brown
streaks to cover. Then I waved a branch over him, like a hawk's
wing, at the same time flipping him end over end, shaking him up
terribly. Then again, when he appeared with a new light dawning
in his eyes, the light of fear, I would set a stick to wiggling
like a creeping fox among the ferns and switch him sharply with a
hemlock tip. It was a hard lesson, but he learned it after a few
days. And before I finished the teaching, not a mouse would come
to my table, no matter how persuasively I squeaked. They would
dart about in the twilight as of yore, but the first whish of my
stick sent them all back to cover on the instant.

That was their stern yet, practical preparation for the robber
horde that would soon be prowling over my camping ground. Then a
stealthy movement among the ferns or the sweep of a shadow among
the twilight shadows would mean a very different thing from
wriggling stick and waving hemlock tip. Snap and swoop, and teeth
and claws,--jump for your life and find out afterwards. That is
the rule for a wise wood mouse. So I said good-by, and left them
to take care of themselves in the wilderness.


One day in the wilderness, as my canoe was sweeping down a
beautiful stretch of river, I noticed a little path leading
through the water grass, at right angles to the stream's course.
Swinging my canoe up to it, I found what seemed to be a landing
place for the wood folk on their river journeyings. The sedges,
which stood thickly all about, were here bent inward, making a
shiny green channel from the river.

On the muddy shore were many tracks of mink and muskrat and
otter. Here a big moose had stood drinking; and there a beaver
had cut the grass and made a little mud pie, in the middle of
which was a bit of musk scenting the whole neighborhood. It was
done last night, for the marks of his fore paws still showed
plainly where he had patted his pie smooth ere he went away.

But the spot was more than a landing place; a path went up the
bank into the woods, as faint as the green waterway among the
sedges. Tall ferns bent over to hide it; rank grasses that had
been softly brushed aside tried their best to look natural; the
alders waved their branches thickly, saying: There is no way
here. But there it was, a path for the wood folk. And when I
followed it into the shade and silence of the woods, the first
mossy log that lay across it was worn smooth by the passage of
many little feet.

As I came back, Simmo's canoe glided into sight and I waved him
to shore. The light birch swung up beside mine, a deep
water-dimple just under the curl of its bow, and a musical ripple
like the gurgle of water by a mossy stone--that was the only

"What means this path, Simmo?"

His keen eyes took in everything,at a glance, the wavy waterway,
the tracks, the faint path to the alders. There was a look of
surprise in his face that I had blundered onto a discovery which
he had looked for many times in vain, his traps on his back.

"Das a portash," he said simply.

"A portage! But who made a portage here?"

"Well, Musquash he prob'ly make-um first. Den beaver, den
h'otter, den everybody in hurry he make-um. You see, river make
big bend here. Portash go 'cross; save time, jus' same Indian

That was the first of a dozen such paths that I have since found
cutting across the bends of wilderness rivers,--the wood folk's
way of saving time on a journey. I left Simmo to go on down the
river, while I followed the little byway curiously. There is
nothing more fascinating in the woods than to go on the track
of the wild things and see what they have been doing.

But alas! mine were not the first human feet that had taken the
journey. Halfway across, at a point where the path ran over a
little brook, I found a deadfall set squarely in the way of
unwary feet. It was different from any I had ever seen, and was
made like this: {drawing omitted}

That tiny stick (trigger, the trappers call it) with its end
resting in air three inches above the bed log, just the right
height so that a beaver or an otter would naturally put his foot
on it in crossing, looks innocent enough. But if you look sharply
you will see that if it were pressed down ever so little it would
instantly release the bent stick that holds the fall-log, and
bring the deadly thing down with crushing force across the back
of any animal beneath.

Such are the pitfalls that lie athwart the way of Keeonekh the
otter, when he goes a-courting and uses Musquash's portage to
shorten his journey.

At the other end of the portage I waited for Simmo to come round
the bend, and took him back to see the work, denouncing the
heartless carelessness of the trapper who had gone away in the
spring and left an unsprung deadfall as a menace to the wild
things. At the first glance he pronounced it an otter trap. Then
the fear and wonder swept into his face, and the questions into

"Das Noel Waby's trap. Nobody else make-um tukpeel stick like
dat," he said at last.

Then I understood. Noel Waby had gone up river trapping in the
spring, and had never come back; nor any word to tell how death
met him.

I stooped down to examine the trap with greater interest. On the
underside of the fall-log I found some long hairs still clinging
in the crevices of the rough bark. They belonged to the outer
waterproof coat with which Keeonekh keeps his fur dry. One otter
at least had been caught here, and the trap reset. But some sense
of danger, some old scent of blood or subtle warning clung to the
spot, and no other creature had crossed the bed log, though
hundreds must have passed that way since the old Indian reset his
trap, and strode away with the dead otter across his shoulders.

What was it in the air? What sense of fear brooded here and
whispered in the alder leaves and tinkled in the brook? Simmo
grew uneasy and hurried away. He was like the wood folk. But I
sat down on a great log that the spring floods had driven in
through the alders to feel the meaning of the place, if possible,
and to have the vast sweet solitude all to myself for a little

A faint stir on my left, and another! Then up the path, twisting
and gliding, came Keeonekh, the first otter that I had ever seen
in the wilderness. Where the sun flickered in through the alder
leaves it glinted brightly on the shiny puter hairs of his rough
coat. As he went his nose worked constantly, going far ahead of
his bright little eyes to tell him what was in the path.

I was sitting very still, some distance to one side, and he did
not see me. Near old Noel's deadfall he paused an instant with
raised head, in the curious snake-like attitude that all the
weasels take when watching. Then he glided round the end of the
trap, and disappeared down the portage.

When he was gone I stole out to examine his tracks. Then I
noticed for the first time that the old path near the deadfall
was getting moss-grown; a faint new path began to show among the
alders. Some warning was there in the trap, and with cunning
instinct all the wood dwellers turned aside, giving a wide berth
to what they felt was dangerous but could not understand. The new
path joined the old again, beyond the brook, and followed it
straight to the river.

Again I examined the deadfall carefully, but of course I found
nothing. That is a matter of instinct, not of eyes and ears, and
it is past finding out. Then I went away for good, after driving
a ring of stout stakes all about the trap to keep heedless little
feet out of it. But I left it unsprung, just as it was, a rude
tribute of remembrance to Keeonekh and the lost Indian.


Wherever you find Keeonekh the otter you find three other things:
wildness, beauty, and running water that no winter can freeze.
There is also good fishing, but that will profit you little; for
after Keeonekh has harried a pool it is useless to cast your fly
or minnow there. The largest fish has disappeared--you will find
his bones and a fin or two on the ice or the nearest bank--and
the little fish are still in hiding after their fright.

Conversely, wherever you find the three elements mentioned you
will also find Keeonekh, if your eyes know how to read the signs
aright. Even in places near the towns, where no otter has been
seen for generations, they are still to be found leading their
shy wild life, so familiar with every sight and sound of
danger that no eye of the many that pass by ever sees them. No
animal has been more persistently trapped and hunted for the
valuable fur that he bears; but Keeonekh is hard to catch and
quick to learn. When a family have all been caught or driven away
from a favorite stream, another otter speedily finds the spot in
some of his winter wanderings after better fishing, and, knowing
well from the signs that others of his race have paid the sad
penalty for heedlessness, he settles down there with greater
watchfulness, and enjoys his fisherman's luck.

In the spring he brings a mate to share his rich living. Soon a
family of young otters go a-fishing in the best pools and explore
the stream for miles up and down. But so shy and wild and quick
to hide are they that the trout fishermen who follow the river,
and the ice fishermen who set their tilt-ups in the pond below,
and the children who gather cowslips in the spring have no
suspicion that the original proprietors of the stream are still
on the spot, jealously watching and resenting every intrusion.

Occasionally the wood choppers cross an unknown trail in the
snow, a heavy trail, with long, sliding, down-hill plunges which
look as if a log had been dragged along. But they too go their
way, wondering a bit at the queer things that live in the woods,
but not understanding the plain records that the queer things
leave behind them. Did they but follow far enough they would find
the end of the trail in open water, and on the ice beyond the
signs of Keeonekh's fishing.

I remember one otter family whose den I found, when a boy, on a
stream between two ponds within three miles of the town house.
Yet the oldest hunter could barely remember the time when the
last otter had been caught or seen in the county.

I was sitting very still in the bushes on the bank, one day in
spring, watching for a wood duck. Wood duck lived there, but the
cover was so thick that I could never surprise them. They always
heard me coming and were off, giving me only vanishing glimpses
among the trees, or else quietly hiding until I went by. So the
only way to see them--a beautiful sight they were--was to sit
still in hiding, for hours if need be, until they came gliding
by, all unconscious of the watcher.

As I waited a large animal came swiftly up stream, just his head
visible, with a long tail trailing behind. He was swimming
powerfully, steadily, straight as a string; but, as I noted with
wonder, he made no ripple whatever, sliding through the water as
if greased from nose to tail. Just above me he dived, and I did
not see him again, though I watched up and down stream
breathlessly for him to reappear.

I had never seen such an animal before, but I knew somehow that
it was an otter, and I drew back into better hiding with the hope
of seeing the rare creature again. Presently another otter
appeared, coming up stream and disappearing in exactly the same
way as the first. But though I stayed all the afternoon I saw
nothing more.

After that I haunted the spot every time I could get away,
creeping down. to the river bank and lying in hiding hours long
at a stretch; for I knew now that the otters lived there, and
they gave me many glimpses of a life I had never seen before.

Soon I found their den. It was in a bank opposite my hiding
place, and the entrance was among the roots of a great tree,
under water, where no one could have possibly found it if the
otters had not themselves shown the way. In their approach they
always dived while yet well out in the stream, and so entered
their door unseen. When they came out they were quite as careful,
always swimming some distance under water before coming to the
surface. It was several days before my eye could trace surely the
faint undulation of the water above them, and so follow their
course to their doorway. Had not the water been shallow I should
never have found it; for they are the most wonderful of swimmers,
making no ripple on the surface, and not half the disturbance
below it that a fish of the same weight makes.

Those were among the happiest watching hours that I have ever
spent in the woods. The game was so large, so utterly unexpected;
and I had the wonderful discovery all to myself. Not one of the
half dozen boys and men who occasionally, when the fever seized
them, trapped muskrat in the big meadow, a mile below, or the
rare mink that hunted frogs in the brook, had any suspicion that
such splendid fur was to be had for the hunting.

Sometimes a whole afternoon would go slowly by, filled with the
sounds and sweet smells of the woods, and not a ripple would
break the dimples of the stream before me. But when, one late
afternoon, just as the pines across the stream began to darken
against the western light, a string of silver bubbles shot across
the stream and a big otter rose to the surface with a pickerel in
his mouth, all the watching that had not well repaid itself was
swept out of the reckoning. He came swiftly towards me, put his
fore paws against the bank, gave a wriggling jump,--and there he
was, not twenty feet away, holding the pickerel down with his
fore paws, his back arched like a frightened cat, and a
tiny stream of water trickling down from the tip of his heavy
pointed tail, as he ate his fish with immense relish.

Years afterward, hundreds of miles away on the Dungarvon, in the
heart of the wilderness, every detail of the scene came back to
me again. I was standing on snowshoes, looking out over the
frozen river, when Keeonekh appeared in an open pool with a trout
in his mouth. He broke his way, with a clattering tinkle of
winter bells, through the thin edge of ice, put his paws against
the heavy snow ice, threw himself out with the same wriggling
jump, and ate with his back arched--just as I had seen him years

This curious way of eating is, I think, characteristic of all
otters; certainly of those that I have been fortunate enough to
see. Why they do it is more than I know; but it must be
uncomfortable for every mouthful--full of fish bones, too--to
slide uphill to one's stomach. Perhaps it is mere habit, which
shows in the arched backs of all the weasel family. Perhaps it is
to frighten any enemy that may approach unawares while Keeonekh
is eating, just as an owl, when feeding on the ground, bristles
up all his feathers so as to look as big as possible.

But my first otter was too keen-scented to remain long so near a
concealed enemy. Suddenly he stopped eating and turned his head
in my direction. I could see his nostrils twitching as the wind
gave him its message. Then he left his fish, glided into the
stream as noiselessly as the brook entered it below him, and
disappeared without leaving a single wavelet to show where he had
gone down.

When the young otters appeared, there was one of the most
interesting lessons to be seen in the woods. Though Keeonekh
loves the water and lives in it more than half the time, his
little ones are afraid of it as so many kittens. If left to
themselves they would undoubtedly go off for a hunting life,
following the old family instinct; for fishing is an acquired
habit of the otters, and so the fishing instinct cannot yet be
transmitted to the little ones. That will take many generations.
Meanwhile the little Keeonekhs must be taught to swim.

One day the mother-otter appeared on the bank among the roots of
the great tree under which was their secret doorway. That was
surprising, for up to this time both otters had always approached
it from the river, and were never seen on the bank near their
den. She appeared to be digging, but was immensely cautious about
it, looking, listening, sniffing continually. I had never gone
near the place for fear of frightening them away; and it was
months afterward, when the den was deserted, before I examined it
to understand just what she was doing. Then I found that she had
made another doorway from her den leading out to the bank. She
had selected the spot with wonderful cunning,--a hollow under a
great root that would never be noticed,--and she dug from inside,
carrying the earth down to the river bottom, so that there should
be nothing about the tree to indicate the haunt of an animal.

Long afterwards, when I had grown better acquainted with
Keeonekh's ways from much watching, I understood the meaning of
all this. She was simply making a safe way out and in for the
little ones, who were afraid of the water. Had she taken or
driven them out of her own entrance under the river, they might
easily have drowned ere they reached the surface.

When the entrance was all ready she disappeared, but I have no
doubt she was just inside, watching to be sure the coast was
clear. Slowly her head and neck appeared till they showed clear
of the black roots. She turned her nose up stream--nothing in the
wind. Eyes and ears searched below--nothing harmful there. Then
she came out, and after her toddled two little otters, full of
wonder at the big bright world, full of fear at the river.

There was no play at first, only wonder and investigation.
Caution was born in them; they put their little feet down as if
treading on eggs, and they sniffed every bush before going behind
it. And the old mother noted their cunning with satisfaction
while her own nose and ears watched far away.

The outing was all too short; some uneasiness was in the air down
stream. Suddenly she rose from where she was lying, and the
little ones, as if commanded, tumbled back into the den. In a
moment she had glided after them, and the bank was deserted. It
was fully ten minutes before my untrained cars caught faint
sounds, which were not of the woods, coming up stream; and longer
than that before two men with fish poles appeared, making their
slow way to the pond above. They passed almost over the den and
disappeared, all unconscious of beast or man that wished them
elsewhere, resenting their noisy passage through the solitudes.
But the otters did not come out again, though I watched till
nearly dark.

It was a week before I saw them again, and some good teaching had
evidently been done in the meantime; for all fear of the river
was gone. They toddled out as before, at the same hour in the
afternoon, and went straight to the bank. There the mother lay
down, and the little ones, as if enjoying the frolic, clambered
up to her back. Whereupon she slid into the stream and swam
slowly about with the little Keeonekhs clinging to her
desperately, as if humpty-dumpty had been played on them before,
and might be repeated any moment.

I understood their air of anxious expectation a moment later,
when Mother Otter dived like a flash from under them, leaving
them to make their own way in the water. They began to swim
naturally enough, but the fear of the new element was still upon
them. The moment old Mother Otter appeared they made for her
whimpering, but she dived again and again, or moved slowly away,
and so kept them swimming. After a little they seemed to tire and
lose courage. Her eyes saw it quicker than mine, and she glided
between them. Both little ones turned in at the same instant and
found a resting place on her back. So she brought them carefully
to land again, and in a few moments they were all rolling about
in the dry leaves like so many puppies.

I must confess here that, besides the boy's wonder in watching
the wild things, another interest brought me to the river bank
and kept me studying Keeonekh's ways. Father Otter was a big
fellow,--enormous he seemed to me, thinking of my mink
skins,--and occasionally, when his rich coat glinted in the
sunshine, I was thinking what a famous cap it would make for the
winter woods, or for coasting on moonshiny nights. More often I
was thinking what famous things a boy could buy for the fourteen
dollars, at least, which his pelt would bring in the open market.

The first Saturday after I saw him I prepared a board, ten times
bigger than a mink-stretcher, and tapered one end to a round
point, and split it, and made a wedge, and smoothed it all down,
and hid it away--to stretch the big otter's skin upon when I
should catch him.

When November came, and fur was prime, I carried down a
half-bushel basket of heads and stuff from the fish market, and
piled them up temptingly on the bank, above a little water path,
in a lonely spot by the river. At the lower end of the path,
where it came out of the water, I set a trap, my biggest one,
with a famous grip for skunks and woodchucks. But the fish rotted
away, as did also another basketful in another place. Whatever
was eaten went to the crows and mink. Keeonekh disdained it.

Then I set the trap in some water (to kill the smell of it) on a
game path among some swamp alders, at a bend of the river where
nobody ever came and where I had found Keeonekh's tracks. The
next night be walked into it. But the trap that was sure grip for
woodchucks was a plaything for Keeonekh's strength. He wrenched
his foot out of it, leaving me only a few glistening hairs--which
was all I ever caught of him.

Years afterward, when I found old Noel's trap on Keeonekh's
portage, I asked Simmo why no bait had been used.

"No good use-um bait," he said, "Keeonekh like-um fresh fish, an'
catch-um self all he want." And that is true. Except in
starvation times, when even the pools are frozen, or the fish die
from one of their mysterious epidemics, Keeonekh turns up his
nose at any bait. If a bit of castor is put in a split stick, he
will turn aside, like all the fur-bearers, to see what this
strange smell is. But if you would toll him with a bait, you must
fasten a fish in the water in such a way that it seems alive as
the current wiggles it, else Keeonekh will never think it worthy
of his catching.

The den in the river bank was never disturbed, and the following
year another litter was raised there. With characteristic
cunning--a cunning which grows keener and keener in the
neighborhood of civilization--the mother-otter filled up the land
entrance among the roots with earth and driftweed, using only the
doorway under water until it was time for the cubs to come out
into the world again.

Of all the creatures of the wilderness Keeonekh is the most
richly gifted, and his ways, could we but search them out, would
furnish a most interesting chapter. Every journey he takes,
whether by land or water, is full of unknown traits and tricks;
but unfortunately no one ever sees him doing things, and most of
his ways are yet to be found out. You see a head holding swiftly
across a wilderness lake, or coming to meet your canoe on the
streams; then, as you follow eagerly, a swirl and he is gone.
When he comes up again he will watch you so much more keenly than
you can possibly watch him that you learn little about him,
except how shy he is. Even the trappers who make a business of
catching him, and with whom I have often talked, know almost
nothing of Keeonekh, except where to set their traps for him
living and how to care for his skin when he is dead.
Once I saw him fishing in a curious way. It was winter, on a
wilderness stream flowing into the Dugarvon. There had been a
fall of dry snow that still lay deep and powdery over all the
woods, too light to settle or crust. At every step one had to
lift a shovelful of the stuff on the point of his snowshoe; and I
was tired out, following some caribou that wandered like plover
in the rain.

Just below me was a deep open pool surrounded by double fringes
of ice. Early in the winter, while the stream was higher, the
white ice had formed thickly on the river wherever the current
was not too swift for freezing. Then the stream fell, and a shelf
of new black ice formed at the water's level, eighteen inches or
more below the first ice, some of which still clung to the banks,
reaching out in places two or three feet and forming dark caverns
with the ice below. Both shelves dipped towards the water,
forming a gentle incline all about the edges of the open places.

A string of silver bubbles shooting across the black pool at my
feet roused me out of a drowsy weariness. There it was again, a
rippling wave across the pool, which rose to the surface a moment
later in a hundred bubbles, tinkling like tiny bells as they
broke in the keen air. Two or three times I saw it with growing
wonder. Then something stirred under the shelf of ice across the
pool. An otter slid into the water; the rippling wave shot across
again; the bubbles broke at the surface; and I knew that he was
sitting under the white ice below me, not twenty feet away.

A whole family of otters, three or four of them, were fishing
there at my feet in utter unconsciousness. The discovery took my
breath away. Every little while the bubbles would shoot across
from my side, and watching sharply I would see Keeonekh slide out
upon the lower shelf of ice on the other side and crouch there in
the gloom, with back humped against the ice above him, eating his
catch. The fish they caught were all small evidently, for after a
few minutes he would throw himself flat on the ice, slide down
the incline into the water, making no splash or disturbance as he
entered, and the string of bubbles would shoot across to my side

For a full hour I watched them breathlessly, marveling at their
skill. A small fish is nimble game to follow and catch in his own
element. But at every slide Keeonekh did it. Sometimes the
rippling wave would shoot all over the pool, and the bubbles
break in a wild tangle as the fish darted and doubled below, with
the otter after him. But it always ended the same way. Keeonekh
would slide out upon the ice shelf, and hump his back, and begin
to eat almost before the last bubble had tinkled behind him.

Curiously enough, the rule of the salmon fishermen prevailed here
in the wilderness: no two rods shall whip the same pool at the
same time. I would see an otter lying ready on the ice, evidently
waiting for the chase to end. Then, as another otter slid out
beside him with his fish, in he would go like a flash and take
his turn. For a while the pool was a lively place; the bubbles
had no rest. Then the plunges grew fewer and fewer, and the
otters all disappeared into the ice caverns.

What became of them I could not make out; and I was too chilled
to watch longer. Above and below the pool the stream was frozen
for a distance; then there was more open water and more fishing.
Whether they followed along the bank under cover of the ice to
other pools, or simply slept where they were till hungry again, I
never found out. Certainly they had taken up their abode in an
ideal spot, and would not leave it willingly. The open pools gave
excellent fishing, and the upper ice shelf protected them
perfectly from all enemies.

Once, a week later, I left the caribou and came back to the spot
to watch awhile; but the place was deserted. The black water
gurgled and dimpled across the pool, and slipped away silently
under the lower edge of ice undisturbed by strings of silver
bubbles. The ice caverns were all dark and silent. The mink had
stolen the fish heads, and there was no trace anywhere to show
that it was Keeonekh's banquet hall.

The swimming power of an otter, which was so evident there in the
winter pool, is one of the most remarkable things in nature. All
other animals and birds, and even the best modeled of modern
boats, leave more or less wake behind them when moving through
the water. But Keeonekh leaves no more trail than a fish. This is
partly because he keeps his body well submerged when swimming,
partly because of the strong, deep, even stroke that drives him
forward. Sometimes I have wondered if the outer hairs of his
coat--the waterproof covering that keeps his fur dry, no matter
how long he swims--are not better oiled than in other animals,
which might account for the lack of ripple. I have seen him go
down suddenly and leave absolutely no break in the surface to
show where he was. When sliding also, plunging down a twenty-foot
clay bank, he enters the water with an astonishing lack of noise
or disturbance of any kind.

In swimming at the surface he seems to use all four feet, like
other animals. But below the surface, when chasing fish, he uses
only the fore-paws. The hind legs then stretch straight out
behind and are used, with the heavy tail, for a great rudder. By
this means he turns and doubles like a flash, following surely
the swift dartings of frightened trout, and beating them by sheer
speed and nimbleness.

When fishing a pool he always hunts outward from the center,
driving the fish towards the bank, keeping himself within their
circlings, and so having the immense advantage of the shorter
line in heading off his game. The fish are seized as they crouch
against the bank for protection, or try to dart out past him.
Large fish are frequently caught from behind as they lie resting
in their spring-holes. So swift and noiseless is his approach
that they are seized before they become aware of danger.

This swimming power of Keeonekh is all the more astonishing when
one remembers that he is distinctively a land animal, with none
of the special endowments of the seal, who is his only rival as a
fisherman. Nature undoubtedly intended him to get his living, as
the other members of his large family do, by hunting in the
woods, and endowed him accordingly. He is a strong runner, a good
climber, a patient tireless hunter, and his nose is keen as a
brier. With a little practice he could again get his living by
hunting, as his ancestors did. If squirrels and rats and rabbits
were too nimble at first, there are plenty of musquash to be
caught, and he need not stop at a fawn or a sheep, for he is
enormously strong, and the grip of his jaws is not to be

In severe winters, when fish are scarce or his pools frozen over,
he takes to the woods boldly and shows himself a master at
hunting craft. But he likes fish, and likes the water, and for
many generations now has been simply a fisherman, with many of
the quiet lovable traits that belong to fishermen in general.

That is one thing to give you instant sympathy for Keeonekh--he
is so different, so far above all other members of his tribe. He
is very gentle by nature, with no trace of the fisher's ferocity
or the weasel's bloodthirstiness. He tames easily, and makes the
most docile and affectionate pet of all the wood folk. He never
kills for the sake of killing, but lives peaceably, so far as he
can, with all creatures. And he stops fishing when he has caught
his dinner. He is also most cleanly in his habits, with no
suggestion whatever of the evil odors that cling to the mink and
defile the whole neighborhood of a skunk. One cannot help
wondering whether just going fishing has not wrought all this
wonder in Keeonekh's disposition. If so, 't is a pity that all
his tribe do not turn fishermen.

His one enemy among the wood folk, so far as I have observed, is
the beaver. As the latter is also a peaceable animal, it is
difficult to account for the hostility. I have heard or read
somewhere that Keeonekh is fond of young beaver and hunts them
occasionally to vary his diet of fish; but I have never found any
evidence in the wilderness to show this. Instead, I think it is
simply a matter of the beaver's dam and pond that causes the

When the dam is built the beavers often dig a channel around
either end to carry off the surplus water, and so prevent their
handiwork being washed away in a freshet. Then the beavers guard
their preserve jealously, driving away the wood folk that dare to
cross their dam or enter their ponds, especially the musquash,
who is apt to burrow and cause them no end of trouble. But
Keeonekh, secure in his strength, holds straight through the
pond, minding his own business and even taking a fish or two in
the deep places near the dam. He delights also in running water,
especially in winter when lakes and streams are mostly frozen,
and in his journeyings he makes use of the open channels that
guard the beavers' work. But the moment the beavers hear a
splashing there, or note a disturbance in the pond where Keeonekh
is chasing fish, down they come full of wrath. And there is
generally a desperate fight before the affair is settled.

Once, on a little pond, I saw a fierce battle going on out in the
middle, and paddled hastily to find out about it. Two beavers and
a big otter were locked in a death struggle, diving, plunging,
throwing themselves out of water, and snapping at each other's

As my canoe halted the otter gripped one of his antagonists and
went under with him. There was a terrible commotion below the
surface for a few moments. When it ended the beaver rolled up
dead, and Keeonekh shot up under the second beaver to repeat the
attack. They gripped on the instant, but the second beaver, an
enormous fellow, refused to go under where he would be at a
disadvantage. In my eagerness I let the canoe drift almost upon
them, driving them wildly apart before the common danger. The
otter held on his way up the lake; the beaver turned towards the
shore, where I noticed for the first time a couple of beaver

In this case there was no chance for intrusion on Keeonekh's
part. He had probably been attacked when going peaceably about
his business through the lake.

It is barely possible, however, that there was an old grievance
on the beavers' part, which they sought to square when they
caught Keeonekh on the lake. When beavers build their houses on
the lake shore, without the necessity for making a dam, they
generally build a tunnel slanting up from the lake's bed to their
den or house on the bank. Now Keeonekh fishes under the ice in
winter more than is generally supposed. As he must breathe after
every chase he must needs know all the air-holes and dens in the
whole lake. No matter how much he turns and doubles in the chase
after a trout, he never loses his sense of direction, never
forgets where the breathing places are. When his fish is seized
he makes a bee line under the ice for the nearest place where he
can breathe and eat. Sometimes this lands him, out of breath, in
the beaver's tunnel; and the beaver must sit upstairs in his own
house, nursing his wrath, while Keeonekh eats fish in his
hallway; for there is not room for both at once in the tunnel,
and a fight there or under the ice is out of the question. As the
beaver eats only bark--the white inner layer of "popple" bark is
his chief dainty--he cannot understand and cannot tolerate this
barbarian, who eats raw fish and leaves the bones and fins and
the smell of slime in his doorway. The beaver is exemplary in his
neatness, detesting all smells and filth; and this may possibly
account for some of his enmity and his savage attacks upon
Keeonekh when he catches him in a good place.

Not the least interesting of Keeonekh's queer ways is his habit
of sliding down hill, which makes a bond of sympathy and brings
him close to the boyhood memories of those who know him.

I remember one pair of otters that I watched for the better part
of a sunny afternoon sliding down a clay bank with endless
delight. The slide had been made, with much care evidently, on
the steep side of a little promontory that jutted into the river.
It was very steep, about twenty feet high, and had been made
perfectly smooth by much sliding and wetting-down. An otter would
appear at the top of the bank, throw himself forward on his belly
and shoot downward like a flash, diving deep under water and
reappearing some distance out from the foot of the slide. And all
this with marvelous stillness, as if the very woods had ears and
were listening to betray the shy creatures at their fun. For it
was fun, pure and simple, and fun with no end of tingle and
excitement in it, especially when one tried to catch the other
and shot into the water at his very heels.

This slide was in perfect condition, and the otters were careful
not to roughen it. They never scrambled up over it, but went
round the point and climbed from the other side, or else went up
parallel to the slide, some distance away, where the ascent was
easier and where there was no danger of rolling stones or sticks
upon the coasting ground to spoil its smoothness.

In winter the snow makes better coasting than the clay. Moreover
it soon grows hard and icy from the freezing of the water left by
the otter's body, and after a few days the slide is as smooth as
glass. Then coasting is perfect, and every otter, old and young,
has his favorite slide and spends part of every pleasant day
enjoying the fun.

When traveling through the woods in deep snow, Keeonekh makes use
of his sliding habit to help him along, especially on down
grades. He runs a little way and throws himself forward on his
belly, sliding through the snow for several feet before he runs
again. So his progress is a series of slides, much as one hurries
along in slippery weather.

I have spoken of the silver bubbles that first drew my attention
to the fishing otters one day in the wilderness. From the few
rare opportunities that I have had to watch them, I think that
the bubbles are seen only after Keeonekh slides swiftly into the
stream. The air clings to the hairs of his rough outer coat and
is brushed from them as he passes through the water. One who
watches him thus, shooting down the long slide belly-bump into
the black winter pool, with a string of silver bubbles breaking
and tinkling above him, is apt to know the hunter's change of
heart from the touch of Nature which makes us all kin. Thereafter
he eschews trapping--at least you will not find his number-three
trap at the foot of Keeonekh's slide any more, to turn the shy
creature's happiness into tragedy--and he sends a hearty
good-luck after his fellow-fisherman, whether he meet him on the
wilderness lakes or in the quiet places on the home streams where
nobody ever comes.


Koskomenos the kingfisher is a kind of outcast among the birds. I
think they regard him as a half reptile, who has not yet climbed
high enough in the bird scale to deserve recognition; so they let
him severely alone. Even the goshawk hesitates before taking a
swoop at him, not knowing quite whether the gaudy creature is
dangerous or only uncanny. I saw a great hawk once drop like a
bolt upon a kingfisher that hung on quivering wings, rattling
softly, before his hole in the bank. But the robber lost his
nerve at the instant when he should have dropped his claws to
strike. He swerved aside and shot upward in a great slant to a
dead spruce top, where he stood watching intently till the dark
beak of a brooding kingfisher reached out of the hole to receive
the fish that her mate had brought her. Whereupon Koskomenos
swept away to his watchtower above the minnow pool, and the hawk
set his wings toward the outlet, where a brood of young
sheldrakes were taking their first lessons in the open water.

No wonder the birds look askance at Kingfisher. His head is
ridiculously large; his feet ridiculously small. He is a poem of
grace in the air; but he creeps like a lizard, or waddles so that
a duck would be ashamed of him, in the rare moments when he is
afoot. His mouth is big enough to take in a minnow whole; his
tongue so small that he has no voice, but only a harsh
klr-rr-r-ik-ik-ik, like a watchman's rattle. He builds no nest,
but rather a den in the bank, in which he lives most filthily
half the day; yet the other half he is a clean, beautiful
creature, with never a suggestion of earth, but only of the blue
heavens above and the color-steeped water below, in his bright
garments. Water will not wet him, though he plunge a dozen times
out of sight beneath the surface. His clatter is harsh, noisy,
diabolical; yet his plunge into the stream, with its flash of
color, its silver spray, and its tinkle of smitten water, is the
most musical thing in the wilderness.

As a fisherman he has no equal. His fishy, expressionless eye is
yet the keenest that sweeps the water, and his swoop puts even
the fish-hawk to shame for its certainty and its lightning

Besides all these contradictions, he is solitary, unknown,
inapproachable. He has no youth, no play, no joy except to eat;
he associates with nobody, not even with his own kind; and when
he catches a fish, and beats its head against a limb till it is
dead, and sits with head back-tilted, swallowing his prey, with a
clattering chuckle deep down in his throat, he affects you as a
parrot does that swears diabolically under his breath as he
scratches his head, and that you would gladly shy a stone at, if
the owner's back were turned for a sufficient moment.

It is this unknown, this uncanny mixture of bird and reptile that
has made the kingfisher an object of superstition among all
savage peoples. The legends about him are legion; his crested
head is prized by savages above all others as a charm or fetish;
and even among civilized peoples his dried body may still
sometimes be seen hanging to a pole, in the hope that his bill
will point out the quarter from which the next wind will blow.

But Koskomenos has another side, though the world as yet has
found out little about it. One day in the wilderness I cheered
him quite involuntarily. It was late afternoon; the fishing was
over, and I sat in my canoe watching by a grassy point to see
what would happen next. Across the stream was a clay bank, near
the top of which a hole as wide as a tea-cup showed where a pair
of kingfishers had dug their long tunnel. "There is nothing for
them to stand on there; how did they begin that hole?" I wondered
lazily; "and how can they ever raise a brood, with an open door
like that for mink and weasel to enter?" Here were two new
problems to add to the many unsolved ones which meet you at every
turn on the woodland byways.

A movement under the shore stopped my wondering, and the long
lithe form of a hunting mink shot swiftly up stream. Under the
hole he stopped, raised himself with his fore paws against the
bank, twisting his head from side to side and sniffing nervously.
"Something good up there," he thought, and began to climb. But
the bank was sheer and soft; he slipped back half a dozen times
without rising two feet. Then he went down stream to a point
where some roots gave him a foothold, and ran lightly up till
under the dark eaves that threw their shadowy roots over the clay
bank. There he crept cautiously along till his nose found the
nest, and slipped down till his fore paws rested on the
threshold. A long hungry sniff of the rank fishy odor that pours
out of a kingfisher's den, a keen look all around to be sure the
old birds were not returning, and he vanished like a shadow.

"There is one brood of kingfishers the less," I thought, with my
glasses focused on the hole. But scarcely was the thought formed,
when a fierce rumbling clatter sounded in the bank. The mink shot
out, a streak of red showing plainly across his brown face. After
him came a kingfisher clattering out a storm of invective and
aiding his progress by vicious jabs at his rear. He had made a
miscalculation that time; the old mother bird was at home waiting
for him, and drove her powerful beak at his evil eye the moment
it appeared at the inner end of the tunnel. That took the longing
for young kingfisher all out of Cheokhes. He plunged headlong
down the bank, the bird swooping after him with a rattling alarm
that brought another kingfisher in a twinkling. The mink dived,
but it was useless to attempt escape in that way; the keen eyes
above followed his flight perfectly. When he came to the surface,
twenty feet away, both birds were over him and dropped like
plummets on his head. So they drove him down stream and out of

Years afterward I solved the second problem suggested by the
kingfisher's den, when I had the good fortune, one day, to watch
a pair beginning their tunneling. All who have ever watched the
bird have, no doubt, noticed his wonderful ability to stop short
in swift flight and hold himself poised in midair for an
indefinite time, while watching the movements of a minnow
beneath. They make use of this ability in beginning their nest
on a bank so steep as to afford no foothold.

As I watched the pair referred to, first one then the other would
hover before the point selected, as a hummingbird balances for a
moment at the door of a trumpet flower to be sure that no one is
watching ere he goes in, then drive his beak with rapid plunges
into the bank, sending down a continuous shower of clay to the
river below. When tired he rested on a watch-stub, while his mate
made a battering-ram of herself and kept up the work. In a
remarkably short time they had a foothold and proceeded to dig
themselves in out of sight.

Kingfisher's tunnel is so narrow that he cannot turn around in
it. His straight, strong bill loosens the earth; his tiny feet
throw it out behind. I would see a shower of dirt, and perchance
the tail of Koskomenos for a brief instant, then a period of
waiting, and another shower. This kept up till the tunnel was
bored perhaps two feet, when they undoubtedly made a sharp turn,
as is their custom. After that they brought most of the earth out
in their beaks. While one worked, the other watched or fished at
the minnow pool, so that there was steady progress as long as I
observed them.

For years I had regarded Koskomenos, as the birds and the rest of
the world regard bim, as a noisy, half-diabolical creature,
between bird and lizard, whom one must pass by with suspicion.
But that affair with the mink changed my feelings a bit.
Koskomenos' mate might lay her eggs like a reptile, but she could
defend them like any bird hero. So I took to watching more
carefully; which is the only way to get acquainted.

The first thing I noticed about the birds--an observation
confirmed later on many waters--was that each pair of kingfishers
have their own particular pools, over which they exercise
unquestioned lordship. There may be a dozen pairs of birds on a
single stream; but, so far as I have been able to observe, each
family has a certain stretch of water on which no other
kingfishers are allowed to fish. They may pass up and down
freely, but they never stop at the minnow pools; they are caught
watching near them, they are promptly driven out by the rightful

The same thing is true on the lake shores. Whether there is some
secret understanding and partition among them, or whether (which
is more likely) their right consists in discovery or first
arrival, there is no means of knowing.

A curious thing, in this connection, is that while a kingfisher
will allow none of his kind to poach on his preserves, he lives
at peace with the brood of sheldrakes that occupy the same
stretch of river. And the sheldrake eats a dozen fish to his one.
The same thing is noticeable among the sheldrakes also, namely,
that each pair, or rather each mother and her brood, have their
own piece of lake or river on. which no others are allowed to
fish. The male sheldrakes meanwhile are far away, fishing on
their own waters.

I had not half settled this matter of the division of trout
streams when another observation came, which was utterly
unexpected. Koskomenos, half reptile though he seem, not only
recognizes riparian rights, but he is also capable of
friendship--and that, too, for a moody prowler of the wilderness
whom no one else cares anything about. Here is the proof.

I was out in my canoe alone looking for a loon's nest, one
midsummer day, when the fresh trail of a bull caribou drew me to
shore. The trail led straight from the water to a broad alder
belt, beyond which, on the hillside, I might find the big brute
loafing his time away till evening should come, and watch him to
see what he would do with himself.

As I turned shoreward a kingfisher sounded his rattle and came
darting across the mouth of the bay where Hukweem the loon had
hidden her two eggs. I watched him, admiring the rippling sweep
of his flight, like the run of a cat's-paw breeze across a
sleeping lake, and the clear blue of his crest against the deeper
blue of summer sky. Under him his reflection rippled along, like
the rush of a gorgeous fish through the glassy water. Opposite my
canoe he checked himself, poised an instant in mid-air, watching
the minnows that my paddle had disturbed, and dropped bill
first--plash! with a silvery tinkle in the sound, as if hidden
bells down among the green water weeds had been set to ringing by
this sprite of the air. A shower of spray caught the rainbow for
a brief instant; the ripples gathered and began to dance over the
spot where Koskomenos had gone down, when they were scattered
rudely again as he burst out among them with his fish. He swept
back to the stub whence he had come, chuckling on the way. There
he whacked his fish soundly on the wood, threw his head back, and
through the glass I saw the tail of a minnow wriggling slowly
down the road that has for him no turning. Then I took up the
caribou trail.

I had gone nearly through the alders, following the course of a
little brook and stealing along without a sound, when behind me I
heard the kingfisher coming above the alders, rattling as if
possessed, klrrr, klrrr, klrrr-ik-ik-ik! On the instant there was
a heavy plunge and splash just ahead, and the swift rush of some
large animal up the hillside. Over me poised the kingfisher,
looking down first at me, then ahead at the unknown beast, till
the crashing ceased in a faint rustle far away, when he swept
back to his fishing-stub, clacking and chuckling immoderately.

I pushed cautiously ahead and came presently to a beautiful pool
below a rock, where the hillside shelved gently towards the
alders. From the numerous tracks and the look of the place, I
knew instantly that I had stumbled upon a bear's bathing pool.
The water was still troubled and muddy; huge tracks, all soppy
and broken, led up the hillside in big jumps; the moss was torn,
the underbrush spattered with shining water drops. "No room for
doubt here," I thought; "Mooween was asleep in this pool, and the
kingfisher woke him up--but why? and did he do it on purpose?

I remembered suddenly a record in an old notebook, which reads:
"Sugarloaf Lake, 26 July.--Tried to stalk a bear this noon. No
luck. He was nosing alongshore and I had a perfect chance; but a
kingfisher scared him." I began to wonder how the rattle of a
kingfisher, which is one of the commonest sounds on wilderness
waters, could scare a bear, who knows all the sounds of the
wilderness perfectly. Perhaps Koskomenos has an alarm note and
uses it for a friend in time of need, as gulls go out of their
way to alarm a flock of sleeping ducks when danger is

Here was a new trait, a touch of the human in this unknown,
clattering suspect of the fishing streams. I resolved to watch
him with keener interest.

Somewhere above me, deep in the tangle of the summer wilderness,
Mooween stood watching his back track, eyes, ears, and nose alert
to discover what the creature was who dared frighten him out of
his noonday bath. It would be senseless to attempt to surprise
him now; besides, I had no weapon of any kind.--"To-morrow,
about this time, I shall be coming back; then look out, Mooween,"
I thought as I marked the place and stole away to my canoe.

But the next day when I came to the place, creeping along the
upper edge of the alders so as to make no noise, the pool was
clear and quiet, as if nothing but the little trout that hid
under the foam bubbles had ever disturbed its peace. Koskomenos
was clattering about the bay below as usual. Spite of my
precaution he had seen me enter the alders; but he gave me no
attention whatever. He went on with his fishing as if he knew
perfectly that the bear had deserted his bathing pool.

It was nearly a month before I again camped on the beautiful
lake. Summer was gone. All her warmth and more than her
fragrant beauty still lingered on forest and river; but the
drowsiness had gone from the atmosphere, and the haze had
crept into it. Here and there birches and maples flung out their
gorgeous banners of autumn over the silent water. A tingle came
into the evening air; the lake's breath lay heavy and white in
the twilight stillness; birds and beasts became suddenly changed
as they entered the brief period of sport and of full feeding.

I was drifting about a reedy bay (the same bay in which the
almost forgotten kingfisher had cheated me out of my bear, after
eating a minnow that my paddle had routed out for him) shooting
frogs for my table with a pocket rifle. How different it was
here, I reflected, from the woods about home. There the game was
already harried; the report of a gun set every living creature
skulking. Here the crack of my little rifle was no more heeded
than the plunge of a fish-hawk, or the groaning of a burdened elm
bough. A score of fat woodcock lay unheeding in that bit of alder
tangle yonder, the ground bored like a colander after their
night's feeding. Up on the burned hillside the partridges said,
quit, quit! when I appeared, and jumped to a tree and craned
their necks to see what I was. The black ducks skulked in the
reeds. They were full-grown now and strong of wing, but the early
hiding habit was not yet broken up by shooting. They would glide
through the sedges, and double the bogs, and crouch in a tangle
till the canoe was almost upon them, when with a rush and a
frightened hark-ark! they shot into the air and away to the
river. The mink, changing from brown to black, gave up his
nest-robbing for honest hunting, undismayed by trap or deadfall;
and up in the inlet I could see grassy domes rising above the
bronze and gold of the marsh, where Musquash was building thick
and high for winter cold and spring floods. Truly it was good to
be here, and to enter for a brief hour into the shy, wild but
unharried life of the wood folk.

A big bullfrog showed his head among the lily pads, and the
little rifle, unmindful of the joys of an unharried existence,
rose slowly to its place. My eye was glancing along the sights
when a sudden movement in the alders on the shore, above and
beyond the unconscious head of Chigwooltz the frog, spared him
for a little season to his lily pads and his minnow hunting. At
the same moment a kingfisher went rattling by to his old perch
over the minnow pool. The alders swayed again as if struck; a
huge bear lumbered out of them to the shore, with a disgruntled
woof! at some twig that had switched his ear too sharply.

I slid lower in the canoe till only my head and shoulders were
visible. Mooween went nosing along-shore till something--a
dead fish or a mussel bed--touched his appetite, when he
stopped and began feeding, scarcely two hundred yards
away. I reached first for my heavy rifle, then for the paddle,
and cautiously "fanned" the canoe towards shore till an old
stump on the point covered my approach. Then the little bark
jumped forward as if alive. But I had scarcely started when--
klrrrr! klrrr! ik-ik--ik! Over my head swept Koskomenos
with a rush of wings and an alarm cry that spoke only of haste
and danger. I had a glimpse of the bear as he shot into the
alders, as if thrown by a catapult; the kingfisher wheeled in a
great rattling circle about the canoe before he pitched upon the
old stump, jerking his tail and clattering in great excitement.

I swung noiselessly out into the lake, where I could watch the
alders. They were all still for a space of ten minutes; but
Mooween was there, I knew, sniffing and listening. Then a great
snake seemed to be wriggling through the bushes, making no sound,
but showing a wavy line of quivering tops as he went.

Down the shore a little way was a higher point, with a fallen
tree that commanded a view of half the lake. I had stood there a
few days before, while watching to determine the air paths and
lines of flight that sheldrakes use in passing up and down the
lake,--for birds have runways, or rather flyways, just as foxes
do. Mooween evidently knew the spot; the alders showed that he
was heading straight for it, to look out on the lake and see what
the alarm was about. As yet he had no idea what peril had
threatened him; though, like all wild creatures, he had obeyed
the first clang of a danger note on the instant. Not a creature
in the woods, from Mooween down to Tookhees the wood mouse, but
has learned from experience that, in matters of this kind, it is
well to jump to cover first and investigate afterwards.

I paddled swiftly to the point, landed and crept to a rock from
which I could just see the fallen tree. Mooween was coming. "My
bear this time," I thought, as a twig snapped faintly. Then
Koskomenos swept into the woods, hovering over the brush near the
butt of the old tree, looking down and rattling--klrrrik, clear
out! klrrr-ik, clear out! There was a heavy rush, such as a bear
always makes when alarmed; Koskomenos swept back to his perch;
and I sought the shore, half inclined to make my next hunting
more even-chanced by disposing of one meddlesome factor. "You
wretched, noisy, clattering meddler!" I muttered, the front sight
of my rifle resting fair on the blue back of Koskomenos, "that is
the third time you have spoiled my shot, and you won't have
another chance.--But wait; who is the meddler here?"

Slowly the bent finger relaxed on the trigger. A loon went
floating by the point, all unconscious of danger, with a rippling
wake that sent silver reflections glinting across the lake's deep
blue. Far overhead soared an eagle, breeze-borne in wide circles,
looking down on his own wide domain, unheeding the man's
intrusion. Nearer, a red squirrel barked down his resentment from
a giant spruce trunk. Down on my left a heavy splash and a wild,
free tumult of quacking told where the black ducks were coming
in, as they had done, undisturbed, for generations. Behind me a
long roll echoed through the woods--some young cock partridge,
whom the warm sun had beguiled into drumming his spring
love-call. From the mountain side a cow moose rolled back a
startling answer. Close at hand, yet seeming miles away, a
chipmunk was chunking sleepily in the sunshine, while a nest of
young wood mice were calling their mother in the grass at my
feet. And every wild sound did but deepen the vast, wondrous
silence of the wilderness.

"After all, what place has the roar of a rifle or the smell of
sulphurous powder in the midst of all this blessed peace?" I
asked half sadly. As if in answer, the kingfisher dropped with
his musical plash, and swept back with exultant rattle to his
watchtower.--"Go on with your clatter and your fishing. The
wilderness and the solitary place shall still be glad, for you
and Mooween, and the trout pools would be lonely without you. But
I wish you knew that your life lay a moment ago in the bend of my
finger, and that some one, besides the bear, appreciates your
brave warning."

Then I went back to the point to measure the tracks, and to
estimate how big the bear was, and to console myself with the
thought of how I would certainly have had him, if something had
not interfered--which is the philosophy of all hunters since

It was a few days later that the chance came of repaying
Koskomenos with coals of fire. The lake surface was still warm;
no storms nor frosts had cooled it. The big trout had risen from
the deep places, but were not yet quickened enough to take my
flies; so, trout hungry, I had gone trolling for them with a
minnow. I had taken two good fish, and was moving slowly by the
mouth of the bay, Simmo at the paddle, when a suspicious movement
on the shore attracted my attention. I passed the line to Simmo,
the better to use my glasses, and was scanning the alders
sharply, when a cry of wonder came from the Indian. "O bah cosh,
see! das second time I catchum, Koskomenos." And there, twenty
feet above the lake, a young kingfisher--one of Koskomenos'
frowzy-headed, wild-eyed-youngsters--was whirling wildly at the
end of my line. He had seen the minnow trailing a hundred feet
astern and, with more hunger than discretion, had swooped for it
promptly. Simmo, feeling the tug but seeing nothing behind him,
had struck promptly, and the hook went home.

I seized the line and began to pull in gently. The young
kingfisher came most unwillingly, with a continuous clatter of
protest that speedily brought Koskomenos and his mate, and two or
three of the captive's brethren, in a wild, clamoring about the
canoe. They showed no lack of courage, but swooped again and
again at the line, and even at the man who held it. In a moment I
had the youngster in my hand, and had disengaged the hook. He was
not hurt at all, but terribly frightened; so I held him a little
while, enjoying the excitement of the others, whom the captive's
alarm rattle kept circling wildly about the canoe. It was
noteworthy that not another bird heeded the cry or came near.
Even in distress they refused to recognize the outcast. Then, as
Koskomenos hovered on quivering wings just over my head, I tossed
the captive close up beside him. "There, Koskomenos, take your
young chuckle-head, and teach him better wisdom. Next time you
see me stalking a bear, please go on with your fishing."

But there was no note of gratitude in the noisy babel that swept
up the bay after the kingfishers. When I saw them again, they
were sitting on a dead branch, five of them in a row, chuckling
and clattering all at once, unmindful of the minnows that played
beneath them. I have no doubt that, in their own way, they were
telling each other all about it.


There is a curious Indian legend about Meeko the red
squirrel--the Mischief-Maker, as the Milicetes call him--which is
also an excellent commentary upon his character. Simmo told it to
me, one day, when we had caught Meeko coming out of a
woodpecker's hole with the last of a brood of fledgelings in his
mouth, chuckling to himself over his hunting.

Long ago, in the days when Clote Scarpe ruled the animals, Meeko
was much larger than he is now, large as Mooween the bear. But
his temper was so fierce, and his disposition so altogether bad
that all the wood folk were threatened with destruction. Meeko
killed right and left with the temper of a weasel, who kills from
pure lust of blood. So Clote Scarpe, to save the little
woods-people, made Meeko smaller--small as he is now.
Unfortunately, Clote Scarpe forgot Meeko's disposition; that
remained as big and as bad as before. So now Meeko goes about the
woods with a small body and a big temper, barking, scolding,
quarreling and, since he cannot destroy in his rage as before,
setting other animals by the ears to destroy each other.

When you have listened to Meeko's scolding for a season, and have
seen him going from nest to nest after innocent fledgelings; or
creeping into the den of his big cousin, the beautiful gray
squirrel, to kill the young; or driving away his little cousin,
the chipmunk, to steal his hoarded nuts; or watching every fight
that goes on in the woods, jeering and chuckling above it,--then
you begin to understand the Indian legend.

Spite of his evil ways, however, he is interesting and always
unexpected. When you have watched the red squirrel that lives
near your camp all summer, and think you know all about him, he
does the queerest thing, good or bad, to upset all your theories
and even the Indian legends about him.

I remember one that greeted me, the first living thing in the
great woods, as I ran my canoe ashore on a wilderness river.
Meeko heard me coming. His bark sounded loudly, in a big spruce,
above the dip of the paddles. As we turned shoreward, he ran down
the tree in which he was, and out on a fallen log to meet us. I
grasped a branch of the old log to steady the canoe and watched
him curiously. He had never seen a man before; he barked, jeered,
scolded, jerked his tail, whistled, did everything within his
power to make me show my teeth and my disposition.

Suddenly he grew excited--and when Meeko grows excited the woods
are not big enough to hold him. He came nearer and nearer to my
canoe till he leaped upon the gunwale and sat there chattering,
as if he were Adjidaumo come back again and I were Hiawatha. All
the while he had poured out a torrent of squirrel talk, but now
his note changed; jeering and scolding and curiosity went out of
it; something else crept in. I began to feel, somehow, that he
was trying to make me understand something, and found me very
stupid about it.

I began to talk quietly, calling him a rattle-head and a
disturber of the peace. At the first sound of my voice he
listened with intense curiosity, then leaped to the log, ran the
length of it, jumped down and began to dig furiously among the
moss and dead leaves. Every moment or two he would stop, and jump
to the log to see if I were watching him.

Presently he ran to my canoe, sprang upon the gunwale, jumped
back again, and ran along the log as before to where he had been
digging. He did it again, looking back at me and saying plainly:
"Come here; come and look." I stepped out of the canoe to the old
log, whereupon Meeko went off into a fit of terrible excitement.
--I was bigger than he expected; I had only two legs;
kut-e-k'chuck, kut-e-k'chuck! whit, whit, whit, kut-e-k'chuck!

I stood where I was until he got over his excitement. Then he
came towards me, and led me along the log, with much chuckling
and jabbering, to the hole in the leaves where he had been
digging. When I bent over it he sprang to a spruce trunk, on a
level with my head, fairly bursting with excitement, but watching
me with intensest interest. In the hole I found a small lizard,
one of the rare kind that lives under logs and loves the dusk. He
had been bitten through the back and disabled. He could still use
legs, tail and head feebly, but could not run away. When I picked
him up and held him in my hand, Meeko came closer with
loud-voiced curiosity, longing to leap to my hand and claim his
own, but held back by fear.--"What is it? He's mine; I found him.
What is it?" he barked, jumping about as if bewitched. Two
curiosities, the lizard and the man, were almost too much for
him. I never saw a squirrel more excited. He had evidently found
the lizard by accident, bit him to keep him still, and then,
astonished by the rare find, hid him away where he could dig him
out and watch him at leisure.

I put the lizard back into the hole and covered him with leaves;
then went to unloading my canoe. Meeko watched me closely. And
the moment I was gone he dug away the leaves, took his treasure
out, watched it with wide bright eyes, bit it once more to keep
it still, and covered it up again carefully. Then he came
chuckling along to where I was putting up my tent.

In a week he owned the camp, coming and going at his own will,
stealing my provisions when I forgot to feed him, and scolding me
roundly at every irregular occurrence. He was an early riser and
insisted on my conforming to the custom. Every morning he would
leap at daylight from a fir tip to my ridgepole, run it along to
the front and sit there, barking and whistling, until I put my
head out of my door, or until Simmo came along with his axe. Of
Simmo and his axe Meeko had a mortal dread, which I could not
understand till one day when I paddled silently back to camp and,
instead of coming up the path, sat idly in my canoe watching the
Indian, who had broken his one pipe and now sat making another
out of a chunk of black alder and a length of nanny bush.
Simmo was as interesting to watch, in his way, as any of the wood

Presently Meeko came down, chattering his curiosity at seeing the
Indian so still and so occupied. A red squirrel is always unhappy
unless he knows all about everything. He watched from the nearest
tree for a while, but could not make up his mind what was doing.
Then he came down on the ground and advanced a foot at a time,
jumping up continually but coming down in the same spot, barking
to make Simmo turn his head and show his hand. Simmo watched out
of the corner of his eye until Meeko was near a solitary tree
which stood in the middle of the camp ground, when he jumped up
suddenly and rushed at the squirrel, who sprang to the tree and
ran to a branch out of reach, snickering and jeering.

Simmo took his axe deliberately and swung it mightily at the foot
of the tree, as if to chop it down; only he hit the trunk with
the head, not,the blade of his weapon. At the first blow, which
made his toes tingle, Meeko stopped jeering and ran higher. Simmo
swung again and Meeko went up another notch. So it went on, Simmo
looking up intently to see the effect and Meeko running higher
after each blow, until the tiptop was reached. Then Simmo gave a
mighty whack; the squirrel leaped far out and came to the
ground, sixty feet below; picked himself up, none the worse for
his leap, and rushed scolding away to his nest. Then Simmo said
umpfh! like a bear, and went back to his pipemaking. He had not
smiled nor relaxed the intent expression of his face during the
whole little comedy.

I found out afterwards that making Meeko jump from a tree top is
one of the few diversions of Indian children. I tried it myself
many times with many squirrels, and found to my astonishment that
a jump from any height, however great, is no concern to a
squirrel, red or gray. They have a way of flattening the body and
bushy tail against the air, which breaks their fall. Their
bodies, and especially their bushy tails, have a curious
tremulous motion, like the quiver of wings, as they come down.
The flying squirrel's sailing down from a tree top to another
tree, fifty feet away, is but an exaggeration, due to the
membrane connecting the fore and hind legs, of what all squirrels
practice continually. I have seen a red squirrel land lightly
after jumping from an enormous height, and run away as if nothing
unusual had happened. But though I have watched them often, I
have never seen a squirrel do this except when compelled to do
so. When chased by a weasel or a marten, or when the axe beats
against the trunk below --either because the vibration hurts
their feet, or else they fear the tree is being cut down--they
use the strange gift to save their lives. But I fancy it is a
breathless experience, and they never try it for fun, though I
have seen them do all sorts of risky stumps in leaping from
branch to branch.

It is a curious fact that, though a squirrel leaps from a great
height without hesitation, it is practically impossible to make
him take a jump of a few feet to the ground. Probably the upward
rush of air, caused by falling a long distance, is necessary to
flatten the body enough to make him land lightly.

It would be interesting to know whether the raccoon also, a
large, heavy animal, has the same way of breaking his fall when
he jumps from a height. One bright moonlight night, when I ran
ahead of the dogs, I saw a big coon leap from a tree to the
ground, a distance of some thirty or forty feet. The dogs had
treed him in an evergreen, and he left them howling below while
he stole silently from branch to branch until a good distance
away, when to save time he leaped to the ground. He struck with a
heavy thump, but ran on uninjured as swiftly as before, and gave
the dogs a long run before they treed him again.

The sole of a coon's foot is padded thick with fat and gristle,
so that it must feel like landing on springs when he jumps; but I
suspect that he also knows the squirrel trick of flattening his
body and tail against the air so as to fall lightly.

The chipmunk seems to be the only one of the squirrel family in
whom this gift is wanting. Possibly he has it also, if the need
ever comes. I fancy, however, that he would fare badly if
compelled to jump from a spruce top, for his body is heavy and
his tail small from long living on the ground; all of which seems
to indicate that the tree-squirrel's bushy tail is given him, not
for ornament, but to aid his passage from branch to branch, and
to break his fall when he comes down from a height.

By way of contrast with Meeko, you may try a curious trick on the
chipmunk. It is not easy to get him into a tree; he prefers a log
or an old wall when frightened; and he is seldom more than two or
three jumps from his den. But watch him as he goes from his
garner to the grove where the acorns are, or to the field where
his winter corn is ripening. Put yourself near his path (he
always follows the same one to and fro) where there is no refuge
close at hand. Then, as he comes along, rush at him suddenly and
he will take to the nearest tree in his alarm. When he recovers
from his fright--which is soon over; for he is the most trustful
of squirrels and looks down at you with interest, never
questioning your motives--take a stick and begin to tap the tree
softly. The more slow and rhythmical your tattoo the sooner he is
charmed. Presently he comes down closer and closer, his eyes
filled with strange wonder. More than once I have had a chipmunk
come to my hand and rest upon it, looking everywhere for the
queer sound that brought him down, forgetting fright and
cornfield and coming winter in his bright curiosity.

Meeko is a bird of another color. He never trusts you nor anybody
else fully, and his curiosity is generally of the vulgar, selfish
kind. When the autumn woods are busy places, and wings flutter
and little feet go pattering everywhere after winter supplies, he
also begins garnering, remembering the hungry days of last
winter. But he is always more curious to see what others are
doing than to fill his own bins. He seldom trusts to one
storehouse--he is too suspicious for that--but hides his things
in twenty different places; some shagbarks in the old wall, a
handful of acorns in a hollow tree, an ear of corn under the
eaves of the old barn, a pint of chestnuts scattered about in the
trees, some in crevices in the bark, some in a pine crotch
covered carefully with needles, and one or two stuck firmly into
the splinters of every broken branch that is not too conspicuous.
But he never gathers much at a time. The moment he sees anybody
else gathering he forgets his own work and goes spying to see
where others are hiding their store. The little chipmunk, who
knows his thieving and his devices, always makes one turn, at
least, in the tunnel to his den too small for Meeko to follow.

He sees a blue jay flitting through the woods, and knows by his
unusual silence that he is hiding things. Meeko follows after
him, stopping all his jabber and stealing from tree to tree,
watching patiently, for hours it need be, until he knows that
Deedeeaskh is gathering corn from a certain field. Then he
watches the line of flight, like a bee hunter, and sees
Deedeeaskh disappear twice by an oak on the wood's edge, a
hundred yards away. Meeko rushes away at a headlong pace and
hides himself in the oak. There he traces the jay's line of
flight a little farther into the woods; sees the unconscious
thief disappear by an old pine. Meeko hides in the pine, and so
traces the jay straight to one of his storehouses.

Sometimes Meeko is so elated over the discovery that, with all
the fields laden with food, he cannot wait for winter. When the
jay goes away Meeko falls to eating or to carrying away his
store. More often he marks the spot and goes away silently. When
he is hungry he will carry off Deedeeaskh's corn before touching
his own.

Once I saw the tables turned in a most interesting fashion.
Deedeeaskh is as big a thief in his way as is Meeko, and also as
vile a nest-robber. The red squirrel had found a hoard of
chestnuts--small fruit, but sweet and good--and was hiding it
away. Part of it he stored in a hollow under the stub of a broken
branch, twenty feet from the ground, so near the source of supply
that no one would ever think of looking for it there. I was
hidden away in a thicket when I discovered him at his work quite
by accident. He seldom came twice to the same spot, but went off
to his other storehouses in succession. After an unusually long
absence, when I was expecting him every moment, a blue jay came
stealing into the tree, spying and sneaking about, as if a nest
of fresh thrush's eggs were somewhere near. He smelled a mouse
evidently, for after a moment's spying he hid himself away in the
tree top, close up against the trunk. Presently Meeko came back,
with his face bulging as if he had toothache, uncovered his
store, emptied in the half dozen chestnuts from his cheek pockets
and covered them all up again.

The moment he was gone the blue jay went straight to the spot,
seized a mouthful of nuts and flew swiftly away. He made three
trips before the squirrel came back. Meeko in his hurry never
noticed the loss, but emptied his pockets and was off to the
chestnut tree again. When he returned, the jay in his eagerness
had disturbed the leaves which covered the hidden store. Meeko
noticed it and was all suspicion in an instant. He whipped off
the covering and stood staring down intently into the garner,
evidently trying to compute the number he had brought and the
number that were there. Then a terrible scolding began, a
scolding that was broken short off when a distant screaming of
jays came floating through the woods. Meeko covered his store
hurriedly, ran along a limb and leaped to the next tree, where he
hid in a knot hole, just his eyes visible, watching his garner
keenly out of the darkness.

Meeko, has no patience. Three or four times he showed himself
nervously. Fortunately for me, the jay had found some excitement
to keep his rattle-brain busy for a moment. A flash of blue, and
he came stealing back, just as Meeko had settled himself for more
watching. After much pecking and listening the jay flew down to
the storehouse, and Meeko, unable to contain himself a moment
longer at sight of the thief, jumped out of his hiding and came
rushing along the limb, hurling threats and vituperation ahead of
him. The jay fluttered off, screaming derision. Meeko followed,
hurling more abuse, but soon gave up the chase and came back to
his chestnuts. It was curious to watch him there, sitting
motionless and intent, his nose close down to his treasure,
trying to compute his loss. Then he stuffed his cheeks full and
began carrying his hoard off to another hiding place.

The autumn woods are full of such little comedies. Jays, crows,
and squirrels are all hiding away winter's supplies, and no


Back to Full Books