When, one summer day, later in life, I took my gun and went to the woods again, in a different though perhaps a less simple spirit I found my youthful vision more than realized. There were, indeed, other birds, plenty of them, singing, nesting, breeding, among the familiar trees, which I had before passed by unheard and unseen.
It is a surprise that awaits every student of ornithology, and the thrill of delight that accompanies it, and the feeling of fresh, eager inquiry that follows, can hardly be awakened by any other pursuit. Take the first step in ornithology, procure one new specimen, and you are ticketed for the whole voyage. There is a fascination about it quite overpowering. It fits so well with other things,—with fishing, hunting, farming, walking, camping-out,—with all that takes one to the fields and woods. One may go a-blackberrying and make some rare discovery; or, while driving his cow to pasture, hear a new song, or make a new observation. Secrets lurk on all sides. There is news in every bush. Expectation is ever on tiptoe. What no man ever saw before may the next moment be revealed to you. What a new interest the woods have! How you long to explore every nook and corner of them! You would even find consolation in being lost in them. You could then hear the night birds and the owls, and, in your wanderings, might stumble upon some unknown specimen.
In all excursions to the woods or to the shore, the student of ornithology has an advantage over his companions. He has one more resource, one more avenue of delight. He, indeed, kills two birds with one stone and sometimes three. If others wander, he can never go out of his way. His game is everywhere. The cawing of a crow makes him feel at home, while a new note or a new song drowns all care. Audubon, on the desolate coast of Labrador, is happier than any king ever was; and on shipboard is nearly cured of his seasickness when a new gull appears in sight.
One must taste it to understand or appreciate its fascination. The looker-on sees nothing to inspire such enthusiasm. Only a few feathers and a half-musical note or two; why all this ado? “Who would give a hundred and twenty dollars to know about the birds?” said an Eastern governor, half contemptuously, to Wilson, as the latter solicited a subscription to his great work. Sure enough. Bought knowledge is dear at any price. The most precious things