Mounting toward the upland again, I pause reverently as the hush and stillness of twilight com upon the woods. It is the sweetest, ripest hour of the day. And as the hermit’s evening hymn goes up from the deep solitude below me, I experience that serene exaltation of sentiment of which music, literature, and religion are but the faint types and symbols. 1865.
When I went to the Adirondacks, which was in the summer of 1863, I was in the first flush of my ornithological studies, and was curious, above else, to know what birds I should find in these solitudes,—what new ones, and what ones already known to me.
In visiting vast primitive, far-off woods one naturally expects to find something rare and precious, or something entirely new, but it commonly happens that one is disappointed. Thoreau made three excursions into the Maine woods, and, though he started the moose and the caribou, had nothing more novel to report by way of bird notes than the songs of the wood thrush and the pewee. This was about my own experience in the Adirondacks. The birds for the most part prefer the vicinity of settlements and clearings, and it was at such places that I saw the greatest number and variety.
At the clearing of an old hunter and pioneer by the name of Hewett, where we paused a couple of days on first entering the woods, I saw many old friends and made some new acquaintances. The snowbird was very abundant here, as it had been at various points along the route after leaving Lake George. As I went out to the spring in the morning to wash myself, a purple finch flew up before me, having already performed its ablutions. I had first observed this bird the winter before in the Highlands of the Hudson, where, during several clear but cold February mornings, a troop of them sang most charmingly in a tree in front of my house. The meeting with the bird here in its breeding haunts was a pleasant surprise. During the day I observed several pine finches,—a dark brown or brindlish bird, allied to the common yellowbird, which it much resembles in its manner and habits. They lingered familiarly about the house, sometimes alighting in a small tree within a few feet of it. In one of the stumpy fields I saw an old favorite in the grass finch or vesper swallow. It was sitting on a tall charred stub with food in its beak. But all along the borders of the woods and in the bushy parts of the fields there was a new song that I was puzzled in tracing to the author. It was most noticeable in the morning and at twilight, but was at all times singularly secret and elusive. I at last discovered that it was the white-throated sparrow, a common bird all through this region. Its song is very delicate and plaintive,—a thin, wavering, tremulous whistle, which disappoints one, however, as it ends when it seems only to have begun. If the bird could give us the finishing strain of which this seems only the prelude, it would stand first among feathered songsters.