I had scarcely crossed the wall when I stopped at hearing a new bird song, so amazingly sweet that it could only be a Christmas message, yet so out of place that the listener stood doubting whether his ears were playing him false, wondering whether the music or the landscape would not suddenly vanish as an unreal thing. The song was continuous—a soft melodious warble, full of sweetness and suggestion; but suggestion of June meadows and a summer sunrise, rather than of snow-packed evergreens and Christmastide. To add to the unreality, no ear could tell where the song came from; its own muffled quality disguised the source perfectly. I searched the trees in front; there was no bird there. I looked behind; there was no place for a bird to sing. I remembered the redstart, how he calls sometimes from among the rocks, and refuses to show himself, and runs and hides when you look for him. I searched the wall; but not a bird track marked the snow. All the while the wonderful carol went on, now in the air, now close beside me, growing more and more bewildering as I listened. It took me a good half-hour to locate the sound; then I understood.
Near me was a solitary fir tree with a bushy top. The bird, whoever he was, had gone to sleep up there, close against the trunk, as birds do, for protection. During the night the soft snow gathered thicker and thicker upon the flexible branches. Their tips bent with the weight till they touched the trunk below, forming a green bower, about which the snow packed all night long, till it was completely closed in. The bird was a prisoner inside, and singing as the morning sun shone in through the walls of his prison-house.
As I listened, delighted with the carol and the minstrel’s novel situation, a mass of snow, loosened by the sun, slid from the snow bower, and a pine-grosbeak appeared in the doorway. A moment he seemed to look about curiously over the new, white, beautiful world; then he hopped to the topmost twig and, turning his crimson breast to the sunrise, poured out his morning song; no longer muffled, but sweet and clear as a wood-thrush bell ringing the sunset.
Once, long afterward, I heard his softer love song, and found his nest in the heart of a New Brunswick forest. Till then it was not known that he ever built south of Labrador. But even that, and the joy of discovery, lacked the charm of this rare sweet carol, coming all unsought and unexpected, as good things do, while our own birds were spending the Christmas time and singing the sunrise in Florida.
Ever since nursery times Bruin has been largely a creature of imagination. He dwells there a ferocious beast, prowling about gloomy woods, red eyed and dangerous, ready to rush upon the unwary traveler and eat him on the spot.
Sometimes, indeed, we have seen him out of imagination. There he is a poor, tired, clumsy creature, footsore and dusty, with a halter round his neck, and a swarthy foreigner to make his life miserable. At the word he rises to his hind legs, hunches his shoulders, and lunges awkwardly round in a circle, while the foreigner sings Horry, horry, dum-dum, and his wife passes the hat.